Holding pink balloons, dozens of protesters gathered across the street from the downtown site of the Los Angeles Mayor's Prayer Breakfast early Saturday to urge the city to provide emergency shelter for 1,000 homeless women in the next six months.
The protest, part of what organizers are calling the "She Does" movement, intensified growing pressure on local officials to clear the street encampments that have overtaken the city while a 10-year, $4.6-billion homeless housing and supportive services program slowly unfolds. Several councilmen have also called for large-scale shelter expansion.
But Mayor Eric Garcetti did not attend the annual breakfast for the second year in a row. He was slated to speak Saturday morning at the California Democratic Party convention in San Diego.
According to the 2017 homeless count, 11,000 women in Los Angeles County live in the streets without shelter, including nearly 7,000 in the city. Mel Tillekeratne, a volunteer for Monday Night Mission, which provides food for the homeless on skid row, said women in tents are being sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution by gang members while the city sleeps.
"Right now there is no leadership," he said. "Someone has to come forward and take the charge."
In an emailed statement, Garcetti spokeswoman Anna Bahr said: "Mayor Garcetti shares the concern, frustration, and horror of the Angelenos who started the She Does effort, and is grateful for their engagement on the issue of women's homelessness. We are working with the organizers to get the word out that more shelter beds for homeless women - and all unsheltered Angelenos - is the city's most urgent priority."
The breakfast, which began in the early years of Mayor Tom Bradley's tenure, draws Christians from scores of churches throughout the Los Angeles region to pray for elected officials, the city and its residents. Now in its 45th year, the event was held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in downtown Los Angeles.
The She Does campaign was organized by volunteer homeless service groups including L.A. on Cloud 9, Operation Healthy Hearts, A Million Drops and Monday Night Mission. Their YouTube video poses #SheDoes as the answer to the questions "Does she deserve safety… shelter?" The coalition's online petition has drawn 6,000 signatures.
Protesters on Saturday stretched for nearly a city block. As the breakfast started, they live-streamed themselves chanting "She Does" on Facebook and Instagram.
"Most of the city's resources are going to cleanups to kick them out, not to services," said demonstrator Estuardo Ruano, a budget advocate for the city's unified Neighborhood Councils. "We have eyes. Every day I walk by them in the streets, I see them lying down barefoot, or with a blanket."
Councilman Jose Huizar and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who attended the breakfast, expressed support for the campaign's aims.
Huizar noted the group's proposal dovetails with a motion he proposed last week calling for a "major triage response" to get 2,000 homeless people off the streets of skid row and into emergency shelter.
"Women and children first," Huizar said.
Barger pointed out that the county already turned the Sylmar armory into a year-round women's shelter. The "She Does" protesters also want to see the Inglewood and West Los Angeles armories given over to homeless women.
Barger said she was open to the idea, but added, "I want to make sure I don't commit to something that displaces another group."
The Rev. Andy Bales of Union Rescue Mission, which co-sponsored the breakfast, called Garcetti's scheduling conflict unfortunate but said he was happy he sent "such a capable representative," Kirkpatrick Tyler, the mayor's South L.A. liaison, in his place.
Addressing the breakfast guests, Tyler said it was exciting time to work for the city, with unprecedented resources rolling out to resolve the homeless crisis. He urged faith leaders to become "soldiers" in the march against homelessness.