LA County sees worsening conditions for individuals experiencing homelessness
(Daily Bruin file photo)
By Justin Jung and Naveed Pour
July 3, 2021 4:32 p.m.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for individuals experiencing homelessness, community leaders said.
Current rates of homelessness around LA are unclear as the 2021 countywide homeless count was canceled amid public health concerns, according to the LA Times. The January 2020 homeless count found that before the pandemic, citywide numbers had risen by 16.1% from the year before.
While 26 temporary shelters opened in LA during the pandemic, at least 19 have closed since then for various reasons, according to the LA Times.
In September 2020, a temporary shelter at the Westwood Recreation Center closed, leaving dozens without housing. The now-closed shelter was one of 22 temporary shelters formed by the Department of Recreation and Parks and LA Homeless Services Authority.
[Related link: Closure of site used for temporary housing leaves many without shelter]
Following the WRC’s closure, the presence of unhoused individuals increased around Westwood parks, some public officials said in January.
As of June 1, the WRC has not been reopened, said Jasmine Shamolian, the field and policy deputy for City Councilmember Paul Koretz’s office, in an emailed statement.
In response to lacking city services for homelessness, a federal judge ordered April 20 that Los Angeles City house individuals on Skid Row by mid-October. However, a federal appeals court paused the order until June 15 so that it could hold a hearing to discuss it on May 27.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals then further paused the order until it can reach a ruling on the city’s appeal.
However, even if the order stands, it is only a temporary measure and may still result in future displacement of people experiencing homelessness when services are cut, said Noreen Ahmed, a 2020-2021 North Westwood Neighborhood Council member.
In March, hundreds experiencing homelessness in Echo Park, an LA neighborhood, were displaced during an encampment sweep. The displacement prompted days of protests and clashes between hundreds of demonstrators and police officers.
“That’s what happened in Echo Park, it didn’t actually find a solution for those people,” said Ahmed, the 2020-2021 co-chair of the NWWNC Homelessness and Community Health Committee. “A lot of rhetoric was saying people got housed, but they actually just got put into a temporary program where they’re out of that area, but then they can just end up displaced somewhere else.”
[Related link: Gallery: Planned vigil for Echo Park encampment becomes standoff with LAPD forces]
Giving people access to safe and stable housing is the key to ending homelessness, said Nisha Vyas, a lecturer-in-law at UCLA and a senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, in an emailed statement.
Since 2016, city and county voters have approved measures – such as Proposition HHH and Measure H – to fund supportive services for people without housing and people at risk of homelessness, Vyas said in the emailed statement. The measures approved a $1.2 billion city bond and 0.25% countywide sales tax increase respectively to fund homeless services.
These measures improved homelessness services by aiming to understand, assess and connect with the individual needs of people experiencing homelessness, she added.
However, city policies and actions that criminalize homelessness – like encampment sweeps where belongings are discarded or seized – are counterproductive to these improvements, the emailed statement read.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office and the LAPD did not respond to requests for comment.
On Thursday, the LA City Council passed an anti-camping measure that would limit where individuals can stay or store property in public places if it is confirmed in a second vote later this month.
Advocates for individuals experiencing homelessness demonstrated outside of LA City Hall as the council meeting took place, The Associated Press reported.
While providing housing is a productive first step, it’s important that city officials work with people without housing to better understand their individual needs, Vyas said.
In addition to finding temporary housing, city officials should also work on other issues like employment and health, Ahmed added.
Over the past year, community groups like Street Watch LA and Services not Sweeps Coalition have been leading support services for individuals experiencing homelessness, Ahmed said. For example, SWLA holds stations in Westwood Park for people to charge their phones, and community fridges have been recently installed in Westwood, she added.
“The City needs to work with groups who are on the ground doing the work,” Ahmed said in an emailed statement. “When they can stop working against them and align with them, then I think this crisis will start moving in the direction it needs.”