L.A. agrees to return tiny houses seized from homeless people

Los Angeles has agreed to return tiny houses that police and sanitation workers impounded from homeless people, but the mayor's office has not endorsed a suggestion to place a village of tiny houses on city land, a spokeswoman said.

Elvis Summers, who reportedly built and distributed 37 brightly colored structures to homeless people over the last year, said he had understood that Mayor Eric Garcetti was considering offering a surplus city lot as a site for the houses.

Connie Llanos, the mayor's spokeswoman, said that although the mayor appreciated citizen efforts to come up with creative solutions to the city's homelessness problem, he does not support the village concept.

"Not at this time," Llanos said. "We're developing a process on how we could work with nonprofits and we'd share those with" Summers.

Popularized as part of a lifestyle-downsizing movement, the bare-bones structures appeal to supporters as a simple and safe alternative to people sleeping on the sidewalk. Los Angeles has the largest unsheltered homeless population in the country, and tattered shantytowns have spread citywide, far from their roots in the downtown area.

Summers collected more than $100,000 through online video appeals and crowdfunding sites for his tiny house campaign.

Officials, however, consider the houses a health and safety hazard, and in February seized three from freeway overpasses in South Los Angeles. A fourth structure was confiscated more recently, Summers said Thursday.

A City Hall protest last month of the tiny house seizures drew dozens of selfie-stick-wielding bloggers and supporters. 

Summers said he expects to get the houses back in the next two weeks and store them on a church lot in Compton, while he continues to look for land, preferably with shower and bathroom access, electricity and other necessities.

Summers said he does not see a tiny house village as an end in itself but as a way to anchor homeless people so they can receive mental health and substance abuse treatment, counseling and medical care on the way to permanent housing.

"I'm absolutely not trying to enable people," he said. "It's just a bridge between the gutter and permanent housing, and it all starts with a good night's rest."

The homeless people who lost their tiny houses are living in the streets in tents, even though the city rushed to get some of them rent vouchers, he said.

"No one is accepting them," he said of the vouchers. "Everyone is still on the streets."

One of the men suffered a broken back when he was struck by a car while crossing the street on foot, and is recuperating in a tent, Summers said. "He just graduated to a cane," Summers said.

Follow Gale Holland on homelessness news @geholland

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