AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This month, Los Angeles opened the first of 15 new homeless shelters. It's the start of a radical plan to bring emergency housing to homeless people where they're already living and to bring services tailored to each neighborhood's needs. Anna Scott from member station KCRW has the story.
ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Near City Hall in downtown LA, right next to a freeway onramp, is the city's newest homeless shelter. This immediate area doesn't have many apartments or condos, but it does have a lot of tent encampments. Joe used to be one of the people who slept on the streets around here.
JOE: I was sitting in the park reading the book, as I do, about Mt. Everest, climbing Mount Everest. Someone just approached me and asked, you know, you live on the street? And I go, yeah.
SCOTT: It was an outreach worker from the shelter. Joe moved in on day one. He asked that we only use his first name because he doesn't want to hurt his chances of eventually getting work again. He's vague about why he ended up homeless in the first place. He says he lost money in a bad business deal. It's not unusual for homeless people in this neighborhood to have life stories that are tough to unravel. But some details come out in bits and pieces.
JOE: I have one son. He's 30 - 30, 31 now. When I went into the situation that I'm presently existing in, I just cut everything off.
SCOTT: That was two years ago.
JOE: And I said, don't take it personal that I'm cutting you off. I said, but you know - I said, I'm not using the phone anymore. I said - you know, so that's the way it goes.
KAIT PETERS: The most important thing to understand about the people that we're trying to serve at this site is that the needs are complex.
SCOTT: Kait Peters oversees strategy and new projects at The People Concern, the nonprofit hired by the local government to run this shelter.
PETERS: It may first seem that they just need this, they just need a job or they just need to see the doctor. What we always find is that it's multilayered and nuanced.
SCOTT: This whole project is called A Bridge Home. At this first site, you'll find five trailers arranged around an outdoor deck.
PETERS: Do you want to go outside there?
SCOTT: Yeah, yeah. Let's go.
PETERS: Is that OK?
SCOTT: Only 45 people at a time can live here. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to move in.
PETERS: We have a little doggie run area because it was important to us that people be able to bring their pets in.
SCOTT: ...Then get residents into permanent housing as quickly as possible. It's a huge challenge in a neighborhood with a lot of people who have been on the streets for a long time.
I don't know if this sounds like a blunt way to put it, but is it - would it be right to say that you're trying to get the people in here that are most likely to die on the streets without this place?
PETERS: I think that's accurate.
SCOTT: Before the shelter opens, some nearby businesses fought the plan.
EDWARD FLORES: Hi. My name is Edward Flores, and my business is a taqueria, or taco stand.
SCOTT: Earlier this summer, he told me he'd had safety issues come up with homeless people in the neighborhood. And he worried that the shelter would attract more but not solve the problem.
FLORES: Some of these people, you feed them and offer them services, and they take it. But they won't get any - their situation does not improve overall. So that's what we're concerned about.
SCOTT: And as the 14 other shelters open, more opposition is already becoming vocal. LA mayor Eric Garcetti says he understands the fear.
ERIC GARCETTI: But just because it's politically easy to walk away, it's - I believe - bad for the neighborhoods and morally wrong to leave people on the streets.
SCOTT: Last year, LA County voters approved a ballot measure to fund these projects and others for the nearly 53,000 homeless people in and around LA. This year, that support will be tested as the new shelters move into neighborhoods. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.
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