The long-term solution to homelessness is to provide housing and services to people living on the streets. But in the short term, the homeless have other needs. One is storage space in safe facilities where they can keep their belongings and access them easily and often. This is the surest and quickest way to relieve the blight and public safety hazards that result when homeless people line streets and sidewalks with their shopping carts, bags, clothes, keepsakes and other possessions, often including essential medical records and identification.
So when the city of Los Angeles came up with sensible plans for two storage facility locations, it was distressing to see the community opposition that immediately arose.
One possible site, the shuttered Westminster Senior Center, is a city-owned facility in a park in Venice. The other is a building that formerly housed a Smart & Final store in San Pedro and which would offer 200 bins; its owner has agreed to rent space to the city. These would not be homeless shelters or drug treatment programs, but clean, safe storage facilities. No lounge areas, no showers, no meals. The city would contract with a nonprofit homeless services provider, Chrysalis, to run both facilities and would station some outreach workers at the sites to help connect homeless people with services. Chrysalis already has a contract with the city to run the largest free storage facility for homeless people. Called The Bin, it offers more than 1,400 storage containers and is located on skid row.
These facilities are desperately needed. Besides The Bin — where 15 to 20 storage containers become available each day — there is only one other storage facility in the city, and it is completely full.
Yet in both Venice and San Pedro, residents complained that the locations are too close to schools and would attract more homeless people than are already there. In San Pedro, residents successfully got the proposal killed, leaving Councilman Joe Buscaino to turn to an alternative location — the grounds of a police station, where the city would have to construct a new facility. In Venice, a group of residents has filed a lawsuit, contending that the use of the senior center as a storage facility for homeless people violates the 1950 court order that transferred the land to the city for a park and for public recreation. (Yet no one seems to have complained about the city allowing a senior center in the park for more than three decades.) The Venice proposal has the support of Councilman Mike Bonin.
There are other possible sites that city officials will pursue — no matter what happens to these two — and that’s good. There are 28,000 homeless people across the city who need access to storage.
But here is something that everyone who lives in the city should understand: Homelessness is the most challenging and corrosive issue to face Los Angeles since gang warfare. After decades of ignoring the problem or taking minor steps to address it, city and county officials are finally making ambitious long-term plans to deal with it in what appears to be a humane and legal way — i.e., without trying to criminalize it or arrest their way out of the problem. Measure HHH on the city ballot this year would raise $1.2 billion to create 10,000 units of housing for homeless people over 10 years. Meanwhile, the county is considering a March ballot measure for a sales tax increase to fund services for the homeless. Providing storage is a temporary but important part of this process.
However, none of this will come to fruition — not the housing in the long term or the storage in the short term — unless residents stop picking NIMBY battles designed to keep homeless people out of their neighborhoods. The reality is that homeless people are already in their neighborhoods — which is how these particular locations for storage were selected in the first place.
Angelenos must acknowledge that a successful effort to reduce homelessness will require more housing, more storage, more services. And the city will not put all these facilities in South L.A. or in the Antelope Valley or on the moon.
Frankly, putting up storage facilities should be the easy part. After all, the more there are, the fewer belongings homeless people will clog the streets with.