L.A. County declares a shelter crisis, providing flexibility in how it provides beds and assistance

Tents line the street near 6th Street and Central Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. County is estimated to have more than 52,000 homeless residents, most of them living on the street.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

County leaders on Tuesday declared a shelter crisis, giving the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority more flexibility in how it may spend $81 million in newly available state money for the homeless and the ability to bypass some regulations in order to provide emergency housing.

The declaration, both symbolic and practical, applies to unincorporated parts of the county and to county-owned facilities in cities that have adopted their own crisis declarations, including Los Angeles. It will be in place for a year.

Under California law, municipalities may declare a shelter crisis when the health and safety of a significant number of residents are at risk. Doing so enables them to house homeless people in designated public facilities and to suspend housing, health and safety standards that might ordinarily get in the way of using those facilities for shelter.


An annual count conducted in January, found there were 52,765 homeless people in L.A. County, three-quarters of whom were living on the street.

“Given the complexity and magnitude of the homelessness crisis and the limited supply of affordable permanent housing in the county, there is a significant and immediate need for interim housing,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl wrote in the motion.

The shelter declaration also gives local governments flexibility in how they spend funds from the state’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program.

The program, approved by the Legislature this year, set aside $500 million to combat homelessness. The money must be spent by June 30, 2021.

In November, the homeless authority will apply for the $81 million for which it is eligible.

Under a plan approved last month, more than half of the money the authority receives — about $45 million — will go toward new short-term housing beds, upgrades to existing interim shelters and safe parking. The rest will fund prevention programs, rapid rehousing and improvements to the county’s coordinated entry system.


Having a shelter crisis declaration in place will allow the authority to spend some of the money specifically on building and upgrading shelters and on providing rental assistance in unincorporated parts of the county.

The city of Los Angeles, which declared its own shelter crisis in April, has separately been awarded $85 million in funds from the state Homeless Emergency Aid pot, the vast majority of which will go to bridge housing and skid row services.

According to the city, it has already directed more than $3.7 million toward two sites under the mayor’s “A Bridge Home” program, supporting 170 planned shelter beds in West L.A. and Hollywood.

The county doesn’t know yet how many, or where, its new shelter beds might be created under its plan. That will depend on community proposals to be submitted to the homeless authority later this year.

The state funds will add to the $350 million being deployed annually under Measure H, a countywide quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2017.

“We still have an incredible social and humanitarian crisis,” said Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless initiative. “We definitely need all levels of government to be in.”


The Board of Supervisors also voted Tuesday to renew a shelter crisis declaration in the Antelope Valley.

That declaration, first put in place a year ago, will enable the Salvation Army to continue providing round-the-clock shelter to a homeless population that faces extreme weather and limited access to services, said Dana Vanderford, Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s homelessness deputy.

The shelter, run out of the High Desert Multi-Ambulatory Care Center, has 100 beds — “and we’re full every single night,” Vanderford said.

Separately, the county approved two additional measures on homelessness.

One directs the county’s attorneys and other departments to recommend changes to local laws and enforcement procedures in light of a recent court ruling that said governments cannot criminalize homeless people for sleeping on the street when no shelter is available.

The other directs the chief executive office to work with county agencies and researchers to develop new data collection tools to measure and predict homelessness.

The board unanimously approved all four of the homelessness-related items.


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