High cost of Los Angeles homeless camp raises eyebrows and questions

In Los Angeles, city officials grappling with an ongoing homelessness crisis turned to an idea that for decades was politically unpopular and considered radical: a government-funded tent camp.

Other cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa, have opened similar programs in recent years. But the high public cost of Los Angeles’ first sanctioned campground – more than $ 2,600 per tent per month – has raised concerns among advocates that this will come at the expense of more permanent housing.

The campsite opened at the end of April in a fenced parking lot next to the 101 freeway in East Hollywood. The converted campground can accommodate up to approximately 70 tents in 12-by-12-foot pitches, marked by white squares painted on the asphalt.

On a recent afternoon, the site was almost full. A row of small porta pots stood in a row along one side of the camp. The program also offers showers, three meals a day, and 24-hour security. Campers entered the county database to match homeless people with social services and housing resources.

It is intended to enclose the tents and cobblestone structures that currently stand in parks, sidewalks, and under highway overpasses, while providing services and a potential stepping stone to permanent homes.

“The thing we can do here is just meet basic needs,” says Lena Miller, CEO of Urban Alchemy, the non-profit organization hired to run the new campsite. “Hygiene, food, medical care.”

For the Prince Page camper, the site offers a sense of peace that he couldn’t find in a tent on the street.

“That sense of security is hard to find,” he says. “This is really what I was looking for. Somewhere where I could think, collect my thoughts, find out what my next step is. And I have been able to do it so far.”

Some homeless advocates, however, are concerned about the program’s spending.

Raised eyebrows

According to a report by the city’s administrative officer, the new East Hollywood campground costs approximately $ 2,663 per participant per month. That’s higher than what a typical one-bedroom apartment in the city rents for, according to the Rent Cafe website. While the cost per tent covers services, meals, sanitation and staff, some fear the city is investing too much in short-term dressings rather than long-term solutions.

“If you can paint lines on a sidewalk for the same cost you can give someone the rent for an apartment,” says Shayla Myers, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “I am concerned that our city is choosing to paint the lines rather than put people in housing.”

City comptroller Ron Galperin, Los Angeles’ leading budget watchdog, says that while the East Hollywood camping pilot is expensive, “doing nothing also costs a lot of money.”

“When people are on our sidewalks, it is already costing us money in terms of public safety, police and emergency fire services, paramedics, sanitation, street services, hospitals, prisons, ”he said.

Another concern is that more government-approved campgrounds will mean more policing for those who refuse or cannot enter the sites.

“It cannot be the type of offering that leads to criminalization and the displacement and closure of other public spaces,” says Myers of Legal Aid.

LA City Council member Joe Buscaino, meanwhile, says law enforcement is part of the problem. He wants the city to completely ban camping on sidewalks and in parks. To do this legally, the courts said, city authorities must first come up with alternatives.

“Right now, in the city of Los Angeles, it’s a free-for-all,” Buscaino says. “You can camp, sleep, lie down anywhere and anywhere you see fit.”

Lena Miller, whose organization manages the new campsite, understands that this is not a long-term solution.

“Is living in a parking lot ideal? No, ”she said. “Is it better than being exposed to everything there is out there without access to food, water? Hygiene? Yes.”

Still, the program is not meant to last. Technically a pilot program, it is expected to end by the end of the year. This is when the parking lot needs to become a construction site for a new affordable housing project.

Copyright 2021 KCRW. To learn more, visit KCRW.

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