(Editor’s note: Of the 168 homeless in Pacific Palisades (2016-2019), the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness has helped 102 people off the streets with 72 moved to permanent housing. Councilman Mike Bonin addressed homeless problems in the City. In a story tomorrow night, we’ll focus on Heidi Marston.)
BY JAMES GAGE
Circling the News Contributor
Community members heard from LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin at the September 23 Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness community meeting.
Task Force President Doug McCormick introduced Bonin as well as Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Chief Program Officer Heidi Marston.
Bonin thanked the PPTFH and all its members “for the incredible work you’ve done over the past five years now.” He also saluted
LAPD officers Rusty Redican and Jimmy Soliman for their partnership with the task force and their role in reducing visible homelessness in the Pacific Palisades area.
“They’ve been phenomenally instrumental with helping people get off the streets and into housing,” said Bonin.
Addressing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, Bonin discussed causes, solutions and actions being taken by the city.
“In the city of Los Angeles alone we have 36,000 people who are homeless,” he said. “Last year, 921 died on the streets of Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness. We are on track to surpass that number this year. And that’s got to change.”
According to LASHA, in the city of Los Angeles, 75 percent of those who are homeless go unsheltered every single day. There are also more than 4,000 people living in their vehicles. Last year, Los Angeles housed over 21,000 people, more than double the number housed in 2014. But the crisis continues.
“The result is starting to pay off from the significant investment the voters made in measures HHH and H, giving us the resources to set forth these solutions,” said Bonin. “But the crisis is still getting worse while that happens.”
In 2017, voters passed measure HHH, a $1.2-billion bond to build approximately 10,000 units of supportive housing in Los Angeles. The city now has 110 homeless housing contracts in the pipeline and is completing more than 7,400 supportive living units. To date, 5,410 total supportive and non-supportive housing units have been built with $790 million in funds committed to date. The average cost HHH per-unit commitment is $148,430.
Per LAHSA data, despite these investments, homelessness is up 12 percent in LA County over the past year and 16 percent in the city of Los Angeles.
“One of the biggest contributors we find is the cost of housing in Los Angeles. The cost of housing is nuts… The average salary you need to pay rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $87,000,” said Bonin.
“We just don’t have housing that people can afford in Los Angeles. So what is the solution? [Affordable] housing. There are many homeless but the one thing that is a common solution for everybody who’s homeless: housing.”
“The city of Los Angeles, we have a choice,” Bonin continued. “We can either have people living in sidewalk encampments or in housing. We can either have people leaving their belongings in encampments on the street or we can provide storage. We can have people going to the bathroom on the street or we can provide 24 hour restrooms. We can have people living in their vehicles or we can provide safe parking.”
Bonin discussed the distinct roles that separate levels of government play in the housing crisis. “The city doesn’t generally do healthcare. The city doesn’t do mental health. The city doesn’t do interventions,” he said. “The one thing we can do is land use.”
With the city, county, and state spending exorbitant amounts of money trying to fix this crisis, the federal government is actively working against the efforts made locally. This year, the White House proposed cutting the HUD budget by 20 percent, effectively gutting the programs that help lower income people into housing. LAHSA receives its federal funding through the HUD budget.
In June, the federal government rolled back on regulations it argued increase the cost of supportive and affordable housing.
“President Trump has directed his team to go further and develop a range of policy options for consideration to deal with this tragedy,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, earlier this month.
Some of these policy options involve razing tent cities and creating new temporary shelters, a plan that would evict roughly 15,000 homeless families and children from shelters in Los Angeles.
“The federal government is actually moving us in the opposite direction,” said Bonin. “The city is moving forward with doing supportive and affordable housing. We have, as of last week’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee meeting, funded 8,625 units of housing with Proposition HHH funds. We’re building 25 Bridge housing locations– temporary shelters around the city–and more to come.”
Bonin reviewed several other solutions to ameliorate the homelessness crisis, including rehabbing existing buildings, short-term housing, long-term housing, emergency shelter beds, and safe parking programs. He also promoted shared housing as a solution, a pilot program that has been attempted with previous success in Venice, housing 35 people for $50,000.
“It doesn’t work for everybody, but for the people they approach, they get 23 percent off the street the same night and 41 percent within two weeks,” said Bonin. “But you have to have some sort of income, even social security and disability.”
Finally, Bonin discussed preventative measures to keep people out of homelessness.
“There’s more ways into homelessness than out,” he said. “If we do not stop the flow of people going into homelessness you’re never going to end this problem.”
Bonin discussed the role the county plays in monitoring and supporting foster youth and those coming in and out of county jails and hospitals, who are considered most vulnerable to homelessness. He also discussed eviction prevention programs, how the city can offer counseling through the eviction process, and increasing the revenue of affordable housing in the Coastal Zone through a special law called the Mellow Act.
“We need to be doing things here,” said Bonin. “We spent $40 million last year supposedly cleaning up encampments in the city of Los Angeles. I don’t think there’s any neighbor.. who feels like anything’s been done with that $40 million we spent.”
Bonin also discussed the growing criminalization of homelessness in in the L.A. area.
“For 20 years we’ve decided that the way we deal with homelessness is to make LAPD do it. Make no mistake, if someone’s committing crime, committing theft, threatening people, they should be prosecuted. But we tend to criminalize the status of homelessness and it has made the problem worse in Los Angeles. This is a crisis that is decades in the making and it’s gonna take a lot of hard work and a lot of focus and a lot of difficult choices to get us out of it.”
On the Westside, funding has been approved for 493 units of housing with HHH funding dollars in eight different projects: three at the VA in Brentwood, two in West L.A., three in Venice, and more in the pipeline, including Mar Vista.
In Venice, the city is erecting 150 beds as well as mobile toilets and hygiene services. The West L.A. VA became the city’s first safe parking space, thanks to the work done by LAHSA Lead Officer Heidi Marston.
“We are desperately looking for locations and places to do more in the district,” said Bonin. “We need more places to park at night through our safe parking program. Insurance is covered. Costs are covered. We need a place for people to stay. If you belong to a church or synagogue or mosque or you have a small business or belong to a nonprofit and you might be willing to do that there’s a real push in the Palisades to find a place for homeless women.”
McCormick opened the room up to questions after Bonin’s presentation. Community members asked about eminent domain grabs, the cost of HHH housing units, building communities in vacant desert land, 3D printed homes, shipping container homes, regulations regarding camping on the street, and more.
One community member argued that the cost of HHH units was far too high. “It’s not cutting it,” the person said.
“I’ve lived here 70 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. To me, it’s just getting worse and five years from now we’ll be standing here having the same conversation.”
“The HHH money is for a specific kind of project,” answered Bonin. “That is not for everybody who’s homeless. It’s for the chronic homeless. It’s expensive because it comes with all the wrap-around services. It comes with staff on site, and it is for long term. Because of a federal rule, it has to be single person per unit but that is not a solution for everybody.”
“Eminent domain is not fast and not inexpensive for market value,” added Bonin. “With the city and county and state government-owned property, we already own property.”
To that effect, a former animal shelter in West L.A. is being converted into housing as well as a former maintenance yard, the West L.A. armory, and the old courthouse in L.A.’s civic center, for which County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl is leading the charge.
“So we’re really trying to use property we already own because it’s already faster,” Bonin said.
Despite arguments from community members for eminent domain grabs, Bonin emphasized that the city’s HHH money can only be used for brick-and-mortar capital costs.
“Most of that money has been allocated it takes time to go through financing approvals, even longer in this area, the Coastal Zone. We’ll start seeing money for the long-term housing in the next couple years as we move to Bridge housing. I want to get 10,000 off the streets and I think shared housing is the way to do that.”