It’s only January, but L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to execute a full-court press on homelessness this year. He’s broken ground on two permanent and supportive housing projects on the Westside and opened a third in South Los Angeles this month.
“By the end of the year I’d like to see close to 2,000 units break ground and an additional 2,000 under construction,” Garcetti told L.A. Weekly at the groundbreaking of Missouri Place in West L.A. last Thursday.
“We estimate 5 or 600 of those will open in the calendar year, but 4,000 units will either be open or under construction by the end of the year. That’s for permanent supportive housing and apartments people can live in forever. The shelter beds goal is by July 1 to have 2,000 of those open in 25 or 26 shelters around the city. That would be a combination of about 6,000 beds of either shelter and/or apartments that will be done or under construction in 2020.”
Councilmember Mike Bonin of the 11th District joined the ceremony launching construction of 74 units of affordable and permanent supportive housing for families with young children on Missouri Avenue helmed by Thomas Safran & Associates.
The site will include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, community spaces, service offices, computer labs, and other facilities in the space formerly occupied by a West L.A. animal shelter.
“The analogy I make with homelessness is that it’s like cancer,” Bonin told L.A. Weekly. “There are many different types of homelessness as there are cancers. As with cancer, there are many different solutions and interventions. Each type requires different treatment. The ultimate common denominator for all is housing.”
Bonin says money and resources focus on people who are chronically homeless and vulnerable, which is less than 30 percent of the homeless population.
“As a result, we’re telling the other 70 percent they’re not homeless enough to be helped,” he says. “It goes back to the cancer analogy, telling somebody with lung cancer to come back when they’re in stage 4. My focus right now is trying to get us to intervene sooner. If you’ve been on the streets for a week, you can be helped. Once you’ve been on the streets for a year or two you’ve been traumatized, you’ve been robbed, you’ve been beaten, and you’ve gotten acclimated to it. You’ve probably turned to drugs or descended into mental illness and are much harder to help.”
The councilman has been under increased pressure from his district to address the explosion of encampments and crime in Mar Vista and Venice.
“This isn’t a homeless issue anymore, it’s turned into a drug and crime problem,” says longtime Mar Vista resident and local business owner Demetrios Mavromichalis. “What was supposed to be a great street has turned into wasteland of lawlessness. Neighbors are turning into vigilantes.”
Ron Olson has lived across the street from the former animal shelter property on the edge of the Sawtelle neighborhood for about 50 years and welcomes Missouri Place.
“When they started this, all we heard was ‘homeless shelter’ and some of the neighbors were resistant and said, ‘Over my dead body,’” Olson told L.A. Weekly at the groundbreaking.
“They took us on a tour of existing properties and they were amazing residences and it changed a lot of minds. Some of the residents opened up their apartments to us and they were beautiful and cared for. When I saw that I was all for it and the other neighbors weren’t against it anymore. When the animal shelter closed a few years ago, homeless people used the decaying lot to do drugs. You don’t need that in a residential neighborhood. That part is over now. What’s going in now fits.”
While the HHH funds have helped, Garcetti’s goals are going to need more help on the county, state and federal levels. The mayor has been having conversations with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and will travel to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with Congress and the administration.
“I’ve been talking to Ben Carson and I will say yes to anyone,” the mayor says. “As I reminded the president when he started tweeting about this — it’s on his watch too. This is too important to weaponize. I don’t want to see this become a partisan issue. This is not about political will; it’s about quitting the fighting and getting the job done.”
And the construction can’t get underway fast enough.
Within 12 hours of breaking ground and just a scant mile from Missouri Place, another person tragically died on the streets of West L.A. The third in as many months in Bonin’s district, the elderly victim was found on the sidewalk at the corner of Barrington Avenue and Gateway Boulevard, soaked to the bone and slumped next to his wheelchair after the rain.