THE TWIN CRISES OF HOMELESSNESS AND COVID-19
Since taking office in 2013, Mayor Garcetti has recognized the growing scope of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, and moved swiftly to address it, including by creating the first Mayor’s Office of City Homelessness Initiatives. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, however, the homelessness crisis took on a new layer of urgency. Many households — already facing high rents and precarious housing — lost their jobs or had their hours drastically reduced. Meanwhile, as a “Safer at Home” ordinance kept most people indoors, thousands of homeless individuals had no choice but to remain on the streets, fearing the new virus in addition to their existing hardships.
Although Mayor Garcetti’s A Bridge Home program, launched in 2018, has successfully added over 2,000 beds for homeless individuals and served over 4,000 participants, the Mayor knew that the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic demanded an unprecedented response. In June 2020, the City and County of L.A. convened a task force of County, City, and Council District representatives and agencies including the City Administrative Office, the Bureau of Engineering, and the City Attorney’s Office. They developed a plan to rapidly design, construct, and open temporary shelters across the city, called the COVID-19 Homelessness Roadmap.
THE COVID-19 HOMELESSNESS ROADMAP
Developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roadmap aims to immediately provide people experiencing homelessness with a safe and secure place to reside while seeking permanent housing. The Roadmap initially aimed to open 6,700 new beds by the end of 2021, meeting an agreement with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter. Currently, the Roadmap is on track to not only meet this goal by Fall 2021, but to exceed it by the end of the year.
In order to swiftly and cost-effectively provide these beds, the Roadmap employs a variety of existing and innovative programs, including Tiny Homes, Safe Sleep, Safe Parking, Project Homekey, and more. Although most Roadmap sites focus on providing immediate, interim housing, the Roadmap also includes a number of Project Homekey beds. Project Homekey sites are interim housing sites, many of which began as Project Roomkey sites, that are intended to eventually transition into Permanent Supportive Housing sites.
As the Roadmap adds thousands of urgently needed beds to the City’s interim housing supply, Mayor Garcetti continues to lead the City’s efforts to build more permanent affordable housing. This work is slower, but no less necessary, to ensure that all those living on the streets and in shelters will one day have a permanent home.
Prioritizing Neighborhood Residents
When a Roadmap site nears the end of construction, the Mayor and City Councilmember of that site identify a priority zone to focus their outreach on. This zone is determined based on a number of factors, including prioritizing areas close to the Roadmap site and streets where a lot of people are sleeping outdoors.
Warm, Client-Centered Engagement
Next, outreach teams meet with prospective participants in those priority zones to invite them to the site. By the time the site opens, it has a group of participants who are ready to move in and immediately take advantage of the resources provided to them. At all Roadmap Interim Housing programs, participants have access to three meals a day, on-site security, wellness resources, veterinarian visits at sites that allow pets, and case management services for mental health, employment, addiction, and housing placement services.
Keeping Our Neighborhoods Clean
As new shelters open their doors, City Sanitation teams work to restore spaces that were previously encampments into open and clear public spaces.
Tiny Home Village Programs
A Tiny Home is a 64-square foot unit that provides low-barrier, safe, and supportive shelter to individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Each Tiny Home has two beds, but for COVID-19 safety, Tiny Homes are currently housing only one resident, unless two individuals request to live together.
The program operates 24/7 and provides comprehensive services, including residential supervision, crisis intervention, security, three meals a day, hygiene services, and access to case management services. The sites accommodate individuals with emotional support and service animals, and have designated dog runs. There are six Tiny Home shelters currently open across Los Angeles, with many more in development.
Chandler Tiny Homes
Service Provider: Hope of the Valley | Located in North Hollywood, the Chandler Tiny Home Village was the very first Tiny Home shelter to open in the City of Los Angeles. Under the leadership of Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Paul Krekorian, Chandler opened its doors to guests on February 1, 2021, bringing in North Hollywood residents who had previously been sleeping under freeways, in encampments and parks, and on the streets.
At Chandler, and other Tiny Home sites, each tiny home is 64 square feet, and contains two beds, heat, air conditioning, windows, a small desk, and a front door. The 39 units are painted in bright colors, creating a warm and energetic atmosphere. Many Chandler residents keep a small chair or plants in front of their door to enjoy sitting on their “porch” when the weather is pleasant. In addition to the critical case management, safety, and wellness services described above, Chandler provides fun and engaging programming for residents - from live concerts to movie nights. Many residents also take advantage of the dog run, bike racks, and additional storage facilities. As the original Tiny Homes site, Chandler acts as a successful model for designing, constructing, and operating a Tiny Home Village.
Safe Sleep and Safe Parking Programs
Safe Sleep and Safe Parking sites are gaining popularity as programs for people experiencing homelessness who are not yet comfortable entering a more structured interim housing environment. At a Safe Sleep site, individuals receive a tent to set up in a designated 12-foot-by-12-foot spot. At a Safe Parking site, individuals who prefer to sleep in their cars can park their car in a safe, regulated parking lot.
One of the expected benefits of these sites is their ability to actively engage people facing barriers or hesitancy to participate in more traditional interim housing programs. These sites serve as an access point into the Coordinated Entry System (CES), give participants the opportunity to become more comfortable in a regulated setting, and build relationships with case managers, service providers, and other individuals who can connect them to longer-term housing solutions. Like other 24-hour interim housing programs, these sites offer low-barrier, safe, and supportive shelter, applying trauma-informed care and harm reduction policies to individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
Madison Safe Sleep Site
Service Provider: Urban Alchemy | In addition to the Alvarado Tiny Homes site, Urban Alchemy operates a Safe Sleep site in Rampart Village. Like the Alvarado site, Mayor Garcetti collaborated with Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell to make this site a reality. The Madison Safe Sleep site has capacity for 69 tent spots, and is usually completely or near full - a testament to both the importance of this form of interim housing, and the care that Urban Alchemy offers. Safe Sleep participants have access to three meals a day, showers, bathrooms, and other hygiene facilities; security; and case management services.
Service Provider: The Salvation Army | Located in the heart of Downtown LA, the largest Project Roomkey was leased by the City and converted into an interim housing site. This 400+ room building is operated as an interim housing site by The Salvation Army, an experienced service provider with whom the City has collaborated for years on different programs.
Project Roomkey provides temporary housing for asymptomatic people experiencing homelessness (PEH), who are high-risk individuals. High-risk individuals, as defined by FEMA, are those who are 65+ or who have certain underlying health conditions (e.g., respiratory, blood disorders, etc.). Project Roomkey serves single adults, couples, and those with a caregiver. Each hotel or motel provides security 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as well as three meals a day, COVID-19 screenings, and housing supportive services. In addition, the City’s Unified Homelessness Response Center provides frequent COVID-19 testing and vaccinations at all sites.
Other Roadmap Interventions
Care First Village on Vignes
Service Provider: The Weingart Center | Responding to the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Care First Village was approved, constructed, and launched in just six months. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis led the County approval process to develop this site. The site holds 232 units total, and will eventually serve as a mix of interim and permanent housing.
For now, all units will operate as interim housing to ensure that people can be moved off the streets and into beds as soon as possible. Each unit holds a bed and a private bathroom, and the site has a dog park and other green space for residents to gather. Critically, the village includes structures to provide supportive services on-site, ensuring that people living at the village improve their health, income, and education prospects while under a safe roof. The village is operated by The Weingart Center who bring their expertise in providing programming, services, and social support for people experiencing homelessness.
The Care First Village was constructed quickly through the use of innovative materials and modular construction processes. It consists of two large permanent buildings constructed from shipping containers and trailers that can be moved in the future to serve new areas or make space for more permanent buildings.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are you keeping Roadmap sites safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Since the Roadmap was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Roadmap sites were designed with greater capacity for social distancing than many traditional congregate shelters. Staff at each site are also taking additional precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, Tiny Homes and Safe Sleep sites consist of individual units that each house one or two individuals. During the pandemic, however, each unit is kept at single occupancy, unless a pair of individuals ask to be placed within the same unit. Finally, City and County agencies provide frequent testing and vaccinations at each site, and will place a site under “quarantine” for 10 days if a positive COVID-19 case is identified.
Who is going to live in the new housing?
The City and County are deploying teams of outreach workers to engage homeless Angelenos who live around Roadmap sites to ensure that people moving into shelters are already residents of the neighborhood. The key qualification for people to move in is their proximity to the location. Each shelter is specifically designed to support the needs of the population nearby — whether they are women, men, students, or senior citizens. Everyone will have their housing needs assessed as they come on-site, and their case manager will work with them to move them into a more permanent solution.
Will Roadmap sites bring homeless people into my neighborhood?
No. Roadmap sites are designed specifically to serve people who live in encampments in the community surrounding the shelter, who will be identified during outreach periods. The City utilizes additional sanitation and enforcement services to ensure that the streets surrounding the shelters remain safe and clean.
How are you deciding where to put the Roadmap housing?
The City is primarily looking at lots it already owns — that are at least 20,000 square feet in size and located near dense homeless encampments. But before a location is officially chosen, it is assessed by engineers to ensure that it’s an appropriate place to put temporary housing, and that it’s equipped with the necessary water, power, and sewage connections.
What are the hours of operation for Roadmap sites?
The shelters are operated 24 hours a day; 7 days a week, with staff and security on-site at all times.
How long do you expect people to stay in Roadmap housing?
Our goal is to move people out of the bridge housing and into more permanent housing as quickly as possible. But how long someone stays in temporary housing is based on their need. Each shelter is staffed with housing navigators, mental health professionals, and anti-addiction specialists who will help clients get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Will our neighborhood be less safe with Roadmap housing?
No. All of the shelters will be fully staffed with 24/7 on-site security, and City staff will closely monitor each shelter to help ensure safety and cleanliness. With the City’s additional funding for sanitation services, existing encampments will be converted into clean, safe public spaces for all residents to enjoy.
Are you going to have services on-site?
Yes. The City and County have partnered to fund services for all residents of Roadmap sites that will help people move out of temporary housing and into permanent housing as quickly as possible. Each resident will have a case manager, as well as mental health, housing, and substance abuse support — not to mention three meals a day, storage, a place for pets, and 24/7 security.
Are residents of Roadmap shelters required to be sober?
No. Entry to the shelter is determined by where someone’s tent is — not whether they’re sober. However, each shelter will be fully equipped with mental health and anti-addiction specialists who will help new residents start on the path to sobriety.
Are residents of A Bridge Home shelters required to be sober?
No. Entry to the shelter is determined by how close someone’s tent is to the location — not whether they’re sober. However, each shelter will be fully equipped with mental health and anti-addiction specialists who will help new residents start on the path to sobriety.
Are you criminalizing homelessness?
This effort is in no way intended to criminalize people who live on the streets. People in desperate need of help should not be punished for their circumstances. The City’s priority is bringing people indoors — not issuing citations.
This doesn’t sound like a permanent solution. What about everyone who doesn’t get into a shelter?
Thanks to the voters of L.A., the City is getting to work building thousands of units of supportive housing for our most vulnerable homeless neighbors over the next decade. But people who are living on the streets tonight can’t wait for new housing to come online -- especially in the midst of a global pandemic. They need help now. That’s why the Roadmap is helping connect people to permanent solutions today.