LA Homeless Shelters Face Opposition
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The mayor of Los Angeles is trying something new when it comes to a city's homelessness crisis. Mayor Eric Garcetti is allocating $20 million to build temporary shelters in all 15 of the city's council districts. Now the idea is to bring services directly to neighborhoods that are seeing an alarming increase in people living on the streets. As NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, it also spreads around the responsibility.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: There's long been criticism that low-income housing and homeless shelters get clustered in poor, neglected neighborhoods. And this is by no means just an LA phenomenon. But the city's new Bridge Home initiative could turn the paradigm on its head by decentralizing and spreading out services around the city. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says the humanitarian crisis is at the breaking point, and it's touching everyone everywhere.
ERIC GARCETTI: Today there are people who are going to the bathroom on the street, people who are camping on the sidewalk, people who are being assaulted, overdosing. That we know bringing them indoors is the first step.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No.
SIEGLER: But already, there has been loud opposition in some of the first neighborhoods picked to house these new temporary shelters.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Did they ever come out to you and ask what you think about this choice - ever?
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No.
SIEGLER: Residents of the Koreatown neighborhood held this protest outside City Hall. In Venice Beach, John Dosch has been organizing his neighbors to find another shelter proposed just two blocks from the ocean. He worries it will hurt property values.
JOHN DOSCH: Having lived in Venice now for 10 years, these people that are homeless are not just homeless. They're drug addicts, and they're also mentally unstable. They're dangerous.
SIEGLER: So the early rollout of A Bridge Home has been rocky in places. Not In My Backyard, or NIMBYism, is a perennial barrier when it comes to building any low-income housing, says Corianne Scally. She's an expert who studies this at the Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute.
CORIANNE SCALLY: I do think that the approach being taken is rather unique.
SIEGLER: Well, that's because the city can largely circumvent NIMBY opposition because these shelters are on city-owned property, and existing zoning laws will be waived. And these facilities will have targeted services, mental health counselors, social workers, housing and job placement. But Scally sees a broader public relations strategy at play behind A Bridge Home, too.
SCALLY: I think that there's a human story here, where the city is also, perhaps, trying to affect attitudes and to help people see these individuals experiencing homelessness less as a nuisance and more as a neighbor.
SIEGLER: For sure, there has been support for building these temporary shelters at public meetings, too, even in some of LA's more tony neighborhoods. Mayor Garcetti says NIMBYism grabs the headlines, but overall, given how bad the situation is here, he thinks the city is moving past it.
GARCETTI: Even in some neighborhoods where people are saying, I don't want this particular location, they're saying, but I do want something in the neighborhood.
SIEGLER: So if it's not if, but when these shelters will be built, the question now is whether they will be used. One morning this week at a large encampment next to the Hollywood Freeway, I met Harvey, who refused to give me his last name because he said he feared for his safety out here.
HARVEY: It's a waste of taxpayer money.
SIEGLER: One of the new shelters is proposed a few blocks from here, but Harvey says he'd rather see the money spent on tiny houses in a secured area in one of the vacant lots nearby.
HARVEY: Have them bring those little micro homes. There you go. We got shelter, not a building. And plus, we got privacy. And that's the thing that they're trying to do. They're trying to take away your privacy.
SIEGLER: Harvey has a tent and lives in it. It's where he stores all of his stuff. And he says that's where he'll likely remain. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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