A few days before Thanksgiving, I hosted a pre-holiday feast at Getty House for a group of men and women who live at El Puente, the city’s first temporary bridge housing site, built on a corner of the El Pueblo historic district downtown. It was a privilege to meet these men and women and to hear them describe their sense of renewed promise. They were thankful because, for the first time in months or even years, they have a place to sleep at night, a place to call home.
Nearly every community in Los Angeles has been touched by the profound moral and humanitarian crisis of homelessness. The individuals and families living in tents, cars and on our streets aren’t faceless strangers. They’re our neighbors, and they’re in need of housing, healthcare and, most of all, hope.
Since 2014, L.A. has answered that call. Over the last four years, the city and county’s Homeless Services Authority reports that we’ve provided permanent housing to more than 32,000 people, surpassing any other city in America. We’ve brought more than 10,000 homeless veterans indoors.
El Puente, the pilot Bridge Home project, represents a new approach to emergency housing.
In 2016 and 2017, voters stepped up by punching their ballots to provide new resources to meet the challenge of homelessness. The county Board of Supervisors has invested in intensive services at temporary housing sites. The City Council has begun building more housing like El Puente, from Canoga Park to San Pedro, all part of a project called A Bridge Home. We’re working with business owners and houses of worship to open up parking lots at night for people living in their cars and looking for a safe place to sleep. L.A.’s nonprofit partners, such as the United Way, are helping us deliver aid, and access to it, to the thousands who remain on the streets on any given night.
We can see the results. Three years ago, there were only nine government-hired outreach workers assigned to Los Angeles; in the past year, close to 1,500 people — social workers, case managers, housing locators and mental health professionals — have been brought on board by the city and county to help homeless Angelenos put their lives back together. The most recent homeless count, conducted in early 2018, showed a drop in the the number of people living on the street for the first time in nine years.
El Puente, the pilot Bridge Home project, represents a new approach to emergency housing. These sites offer beds, showers and intensive services so that people can get off the street without delay and get on a path to long-term housing. A Bridge Home has not been without skeptics, but El Puente shows the strategy’s worth. Forty-five people are living there, and we’re restoring what was previously a nearby homeless encampment into a clean, clear passageway. Neighborhood merchants, who had feared and opposed the project, tell us they are grateful for the increased security in the El Pueblo district.
At the Getty House dinner, the stories I heard from El Puente residents offered the best kind of proof of our progress. L.A.'s efforts are paying off, one life at a time, which is the only way we will give everyone struggling to survive on the streets the chance they need to move out of their tents, get under a roof and be welcomed into a community.
I saw the change in a security guard who had been living on the streets but is now able to pick up extra shifts at two nearby restaurants because he has a stable place to stay and a place to shower. I felt the hope in the story of a woman who ran into old friends recently who told her how different she looked since she came indoors — happy and relaxed. I witnessed how getting into a job training program put one man on a path to full-time employment, which is helping him stay clean from drug use.
We know there are workable solutions that match permanent housing to those who need it. At City Hall, we don’t dismiss people’s fears about building shelters throughout the city, but we won’t stop until our work is done.
This holiday season, I am grateful not only for the blessings in my own life, but for the willingness of Angelenos to bring their talents, resources and determination to the task of solving the homelessness crisis in L.A. Even in these times of perceived division and constant distraction, Los Angeles has defined itself by its generosity, civility and persistence.
Now I ask Angelenos to continue to work with me toward our common goal: a safe place to sleep for every man, woman and child in this city.
Eric Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles.
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