Why should we host homeless camps in LA

Homeless camps are like villages. And it takes a village of outreach workers, service providers and government officials who all work together for weeks or months to move camp occupants from their sidewalk tents to housing.

Over the past year, interest in encampment-to-housing, as the approach is often referred to, has grown as the City of Los Angeles embarked on two large-scale and successful enough efforts to relocate nearly 200 people from Echo Park Lake in temporary housing. housing and 211 others living along the Ocean Front Walk in Venice Beach in mostly temporary housing. There were also a few other smaller, quieter home camp movements.

There is no doubt that all homeless people need shelter, whether they live in an encampment or deploy a sleeping bag in a doorway at night. The question has always been a priority – who do you help first? Are you looking for the most vulnerable homeless people with physical or mental illnesses, or are you dismantling an encampment inhabited by dozens or hundreds, some with disabilities and illnesses and others who only suffer from poverty?

Some nonprofit service providers, elected officials, and city and county officials who work on homelessness issues believe housing an entire camp may be the best way forward in a county of around 66,000 homeless people. And they might be right. It makes sense to prioritize housing camp residents in a public park, such as Echo Park Lake, or a public beach. No one should be camping in a park – such facilities should be shared by everyone.

Of course, the optics of housing an entire camp is another reason city and county officials prefer this approach. It is a visible statement that they have done something about homelessness. However, this should not be the main motivation for action. Choosing an encampment to shelter should be done for smart reasons, not to score political points or appease an angry neighborhood that complains the loudest about a nearby encampment.

But where is the long-standing camp on San Vicente Boulevard in the Brentwood neighborhood? It has received enormous attention since a resident of the camp was fatally stabbed last week as he allegedly intervened in a marital dispute involving his alleged attacker – another man living in the camp who was arrested. .

The camp is a sprawling chain of nearly identical sturdy tents on a county-owned sidewalk that never had much foot traffic. It is flanked on one side by the city of LA and on the other by the iron fence of the West LA Department of Veterans Affairs campus. Of the estimated 50 people living in the camp, around 40 to 45 are ex-combatants, according to VA officials. Most of them are eligible for the safe camping and amenities that VA provides on their land, but for various reasons they are not interested in living on the land.

Shalise Garcia, who goes by the name Coco and lives in the camp with her boyfriend, a veteran of the Marines, told a Los Angeles Times columnist last week that violent disagreements at her camp are not much different from violent disagreements. in hostel communities. “The way we live here is the same as there,” she said. “They just have bigger walls and doors. You can’t control what’s going to happen there.

But the homicide was the second in the camp since April, when a homeless man was hit by a car driven by another homeless man. As furniture and tents move closer to the sidewalk, residents are also more vulnerable to traffic on the street. Earlier this year, a car crashed into the encampment, injuring three people. And according to county homelessness officials, there is a severe infestation of rats in the camp. All of this makes the rehousing of people in the camp an urgent public health and safety issue.

The advantage of working in a camp is that service providers can concentrate their outreach workers in one location over a long period of time and spend more time with more people. In addition, people who are afraid of leaving what they know in a camp may be persuaded to go when they see their neighbors taking accommodation. In some cases, groups of people from a camp may move together.

Brentwood camp is a fraction of the size of those cleared at Echo Park Lake or Venice. Awareness-raising actions have taken place there regularly over the years. But it obviously wasn’t as successful as it should have been. According to officials from the LA Homeless Services Authority, there are veterans sitting in this encampment with housing rental vouchers in hand who have not been able to find housing. Still, officials say, there are more than 200 supportive housing units available in the county’s veterans-only developments.

In general, it can be difficult to find landlords willing to rent to homeless people, and sometimes individuals themselves refuse available accommodation. But with so many veterans’ units empty, authorities should make an intensive effort to house this entire encampment – as LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has promised the county and service providers will. By the end of the year – Kuehl’s calendar – no one should be sitting in this camp with a housing voucher and nowhere to use it. As Garcia said, “The sooner we move into housing, the better.

If authorities are focused on moving entire camps of homeless residents to housing, Brentwood Encampment is a good place for this type of laser focusing. It shouldn’t have taken a murder for this to happen.

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