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California

L.A. could have 30 new homeless shelters, but the county is refusing to pay for them

Tents line a sidewalk in Los Angeles.
Tents line a sidewalk in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It took months to get off the ground, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to build a homeless shelter in every City Council district has taken off.

Nine are now open with a total of more than 500 beds. And, after some resistance, 14 of 15 council members have committed to having at least one shelter in their district — everyone but Councilman John Lee in the west San Fernando Valley.

In all, 30 shelters are in some stage of development for a total of 2,300 new beds, including about 900 that the city plans to fund from other sources.

But the unanticipated success of Garcetti’s A Bridge Home program has put the city at odds with Los Angeles County over who should pay for it, leaving further expansion of the shelter program in doubt at a time when residents have become increasingly frustrated with an explosion of homeless encampments.

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County officials agreed in 2018 to provide $50 a night toward homeless services for 600 beds, using funds from the Measure H countywide sales tax. But Garcetti also was counting on the county to pick up the tab for an additional 800 beds — an added cost of about $14.6 million a year — for a total of 1,400 beds. The mayor said he thought of it as an expansion of the initial agreement.

County officials have balked at the mayor’s request, though, saying that money from Measure H has already been committed elsewhere.

In an Oct. 29 letter to Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas forwarded a county staff report suggesting that giving the city money for additional beds would require the county to divert money budgeted for homelessness prevention, outreach and rapid rehousing.

Ridley-Thomas, in the letter and in an interview with The Times, suggested he would be open to discussing the issue further with the mayor, but city and county officials have acknowledged that the city will probably have to look elsewhere for money.

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The county, in its staff report, suggested that funding for shelters could instead come from a state homelessness grant, totaling about $117.5 million over three years. The city already has a plan for that money, though.

Under that plan, which was released Friday, the city hopes to use $50 million to build and operate eight shelters, and $25.8 million more for prevention and diversion programs. Those shelters and programs would have to be scaled back, however, without Measure H funds from the county, an official in the city administrative office said.

The county staff report also pointed out that the city would face annual operating costs of nearly $42 million after it stops receiving Measure H funds in three years under the initial agreement with the county. That makes it inadvisable for the city to expand its shelter program any further, the report found.

Garcetti launched A Bridge Home in April 2018, saying he wanted a 100-bed shelter in each of the 15 City Council districts, for a total of 1,500 beds. He and other government officials say the shelters will be used temporarily, for people to get off the street before moving on to permanent housing.

Initially, only a few council members suggested potential sites for shelters in their districts. Despite that slow response, the mayor used about $50 million from the state and an additional $30 million from city coffers to begin building the shelters anyway. Then, as public concern over homelessness mounted, council members began to line up behind the mayor’s program.

The nine shelters that have opened so far have a combined 519 beds. If all 30 shelters are completed, the city of L.A. will add more than 2,300 beds to its inventory.

Four of those shelters are downtown in Councilman Jose Huizar’s district. Councilman David Ryu’s district will also have four: two in Los Feliz and two in Hollywood.

Three districts will have three shelters each: Councilman Joe Buscaino’s, in Watts, San Pedro and Wilmington; Councilman Curren Price’s, in Historic South-Central and Vermont Square; and Councilman Gil Cedillo’s, all in Westlake. The city administrative office is currently not recommending one of the Westlake sites.

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Four other council districts will have two shelters: Councilman Paul Krekorian’s, in North Hollywood and Van Nuys; Council President Herb Wesson’s, in Westlake and Harvard Heights; Councilman Mike Bonin’s, in Westwood and Venice; and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s, in Hollywood.

The remaining shelters will be in Canoga Park, Van Nuys, Sylmar, Pico-Robertson and Chesterfield Square.

The squabble is a rare sour note in an otherwise cooperative relationship worked out three years ago, as the City Council placed Proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond measure for homeless housing, on the ballot and the county Board of Supervisors followed by putting Measure H on the ballot.

Both Proposition HHH and Measure H were based on an understanding that, if they passed, the city would supply capital funds to build apartments and provide federal vouchers to cover the rents, and the county would pay for services for formerly homeless tenants.

The measures did pass, and the deal, eventually formalized in a memorandum of understanding, reflected a new era of city-county cooperation crafted by Garcetti and Ridley-Thomas, then chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

In an interview Friday, Ridley-Thomas downplayed the rift, saying the city and county are “in what can be described as unprecedented in terms of the relationship of collaboration.”

But he said the request for new funds has to be balanced against other demands, including its commitment to pay for services at what will be thousands of permanent supportive housing units opening over the next few years with help from Proposition HHH.

“There are 88 cities in the county of Los Angeles,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We have an obligation to deal with the homeless crisis throughout those cities. We are seeking to be as attentive to those requests and concerns as possible.”

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This latest back-and-forth comes as pressure on L.A.'s shelter system increases with the arrival of winter weather. With three-fourths of the area’s 60,000 homeless people living outdoors, mostly in encampments of tents, the county has acknowledged that more interim housing beds are sorely needed. Since the beginning of 2018, county officials have added about 2,700 temporary shelter beds.

Still, this is widely agreed to not be enough.

Both the mayor and the supervisors downplayed the dispute as a minor wrinkle in a relationship that involves intense dialogue daily over the intricacies of managing hundreds of millions of dollars of homelessness funds.

Joel John Roberts, chief executive of PATH Ventures, which operates several shelters for the city and county, said the relationship between the two bureaucracies is stronger than ever. In the past, this sort of squabble would regularly occur in the open.

“It was always public and they would bash each other,” Roberts said. “The fact that they have this very professional detailed request, I think it’s impressive. I don’t see this as a fight. I would hope it would continue that way in the future.”

Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.


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