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Latest LA Family Housing News
Mar 23, 2023
Encampment residents describe being misled about housing availability and heavy police presence as part of Mayor Karen Bass' "proactive" program. Snap Los Angeles’ ambitious plan to tackle homelessness is being praised by some—including one council member who referred to it as an “absolute home-run” —but interviews with encampment residents and advocates reveal a messy, heavily-policed rollout with poor communication that is already breeding distrust among people living on the street. Advertisement On Monday, residents of a homeless encampment on Aetna Street in Los Angeles published an open letter directed at Mayor Karen Bass. The letter's demands include more transparency around the mayor’s program of encampment sweeps, called “Inside Safe,” including a pathway to permanent housing. Residents had reason to believe an encampment sweep was imminent—a nonprofit caseworker had told them to be ready to be transported to motel rooms that day if they consolidated their belongings into two bags. Skeptical but eager to be housed, many followed suit, even after publishing the letter. On Monday, the transport never arrived. Residents are still expecting an encampment sweep soon but were told Wednesday that their demands are being taken seriously, according to Carla Orendorff, a mutual aid volunteer who organizes with Aetna Street residents. Karen Bass was sworn in as L.A.’s mayor and immediately made homelessness the center of her tenure, declaring a state of emergency , promising to secure more motel and hotel leases for transitional housing and to build permanent housing, including on city-owned land. Like many cities across the country, Los Angeles has been dealing with a surge in unsheltered homelessness and homeless encampments since the beginning of the pandemic. The city has enacted controversial policies to enforce encampment sweeps including the high profile and violent sweep of an encampment at Echo Park Lake two years ago that proved largely unsuccessful at securing people housing . A billion dollar housing bond meant to construct more housing for people experiencing homelessness has been moving far slower than voters anticipated . Meanwhile, the city has been relying on short-term solutions, some of which have felt carceral to unhoused people, including tiny home villages and sanctioned encampments with rules and curfews. Advertisement “It's very, very stressful to be treated like you're a criminal or you're less than everyone else” While Bass promised a range of solutions, she will be judged politically on short-term actions, among them a program called “ Inside Safe” meant to bring people inside from encampments. According to the mayor’s office, the program is a “proactive housing-led strategy to bring people inside from tents and encampments for good, and to prevent encampments from returning.” But encampment residents who spoke to Motherboard have been disillusioned and angry over miscommunication from the city and a lack of clarity about what kind of housing, if any, is being offered. All said they want to go inside, but want to be housed close by and without being paired with strangers or given strict rules. Residents and advocates also say that the program has been coercive and has relied on a large police presence, contrary to the mayor’s stated intentions. The initiative, mostly carried out by the sanitation department with representatives of nonprofits handling transport, is opaque, and advocates say people clearing encampments don’t identify themselves as part of “Inside Safe.” Because of these incidents, Aetna Street residents demanded tangible, written offers and transparency about the rules at any shelters or motels where they are housed. Residents demanded that the program be voluntary “with no BS lies, tricks, or promises that can’t be met.” Advertisement They demanded hotel placements that are close to the encampment and their support networks, to be allowed to bring more than two bags with themand “no family separation,” citing the practice of placing some residents in hotels away from family members. They also demanded food that meets their dietary needs and asked for a sit down with Mayor Bass. In a sign of how rushed the initiative has been, on Monday, a representative with a nonprofit working with the city told residents of an encampment on Aetna Street that there weren’t any motels or hotels available, despite previously asking them to be prepared to leave by that morning, Motherboard has learned. The demands in the letter by Aetna Street residents were in response to incidents from previous “Inside Safe” encampment sweeps by the Bass administration, residents and advocates said. 03.13.23 A representative from LA Family Housing had told residents of the Aetna Street encampment the prior week that they would be brought to a motel room Monday morning at 8 a.m., as long as they discarded any belongings that wouldn’t fit into two bags, residents told Motherboard. While residents were concerned about the city’s approach to encampments, many were cautiously optimistic about the prospect of a motel or hotel room. One resident who wished only to be identified as “Cindy” told Motherboard she and her boyfriend had tossed out a bicycle, a portable stove and pots and pans in anticipation of the move. But at 8 a.m., while waiting to be picked up, the same representative from LA Family Housing drove right by them without stopping. Advertisement “He happened to pass by and doesn't even stop,” she said. She said many residents of the encampment have criminal records that make it difficult to find work, and asking people to throw out their few belongings is a big ask. “It's just a disappointment,” she said. Later that morning, an LA Family Housing employee told residents there was a shortage of motel rooms for people in encampments. “Too many people got a wind of motels and that’s all people want. In reality, we can’t do that right now,” he told the resident, according to audio reviewed by Motherboard. The promise of housing—transitional and, eventually, permanent—is supposedly the cornerstone of Mayor Bass’s approach. “The service providers have identified the beds, so we know that there are specific motels that people can go to,” Bass told reporters at a December press conference launching Inside Safe. La Donna Harrell, 37, is a resident of the Aetna Street encampment who said she believes the city employees become defensive when they ask for basic things like clear offers. She’s experienced city-run motel stays where the facilities have too many rules, including strict curfews and no razors, and said if this is what the city is offering, it’s understandable that people would rather be in a tent. “We have to go through that just for them to give us some carceral, horrible place to go,” Harrell told Motherboard. “I can't afford rent, now I have no nightlife? I'm in this program, I can't go out with friends? That's crazy,” she said. She said L.A. Family Housing offered to put her in a shared motel room with a stranger, but she’s holding out for a single room for safety and privacy reasons. Advertisement Bass announced last week that her Inside Safe program would have brought in a total of 1,000 people by the end of her first 100 days, which came to a close Tuesday. The vast majority of people being counted toward that goal are not being permanently housed, according to an infographic released by the city: of 516 people “brought inside” by the mayor’s encampment sweeps, only 62 were connected with permanent supportive housing. Knock LA reported that residents who were moved to Hotel Silver Lake and promised they could stay there until the city could acquire permanent housing were instead moved to the Grand Hotel, which enforces pat-downs, requires people to be escorted to their own rooms and has guest restrictions. Advertisement One resident at Hotel Silver Lake, Carolyne Smith, 52, told Motherboard that 10 people left the Grand Hotel after learning about the strict rules, likely returning to the street. Smith was formerly living at the 6th and Fairfax encampment where a local city council member and a mutual aid group worked together to communicate with residents during an “Inside Safe” sweep. She was supposed to be moved to the Grand Hotel on Monday, but was allowed to remain because she had a dentist’s appointment that day. After hearing about the experience of her peers, she says she is now refusing to leave unless she’s promised a motel room without a carceral set of rules. Smith says when residents of the encampment were first placed at Silverlake, there were no security problems, so she doesn’t understand the need for the strict restrictions at the Grand Hotel, which her friends found jarring. “They felt like they were treated like normal people,” Smith said of the initial experience. “Suddenly it's this giant hotel, you have to be wanded down, your bag searched, led to your door,” she said. “It's very, very stressful to be treated like you're a criminal or you're less than everyone else.” “Inside Safe has cops. And you're under a definite threat of harm from law enforcement, because they're armed, and there's a lot of them” In their open letter, Aetna Street residents also pointedly asked for more clarity on whether police enforcement would be part of the “Inside Safe” program, something that Bass has sent mixed signals on. Advertisement The mayor initially told reporters at a December press conference introducing Inside Safe that people would be brought in voluntarily, and she downplayed the role of police. When asked by a reporter at that press conference if Inside Safe would be coercive or utilize police, Bass responded, “The role of the police is if they are needed, but be clear that this is a housing based strategy. This is not a punitive strategy. This is not about cleaning up and clearing out.” “We’re not utilizing 41.18 for this,” Bass said, referring to a controversial ordinance that lets city council create police enforcement zones where sitting, lying or sleeping in public is illegal. “We are focused on getting them housed and getting them services, not on law enforcement.” In its infographic, the mayor’s office declares that Inside Safe has had “0” arrests. While that may be true, advocates say it masks how punitive the program is. Peggy Lee Kennedy, 65, volunteers with Venice Justice Committee, a longstanding mutual aid group. Kennedy has witnessed three Inside Safe operations and says they follow the same routine: the Department of Sanitation comes by to remove peoples’ belongings while police stand by. Representatives from nonprofits tell residents they can be moved to motel rooms. Department of Sanitation employees ask residents to agree to have their belongings removed and tents dismantled, on camera, likely as legal coverage. Advertisement “Saying ‘zero arrests’ is really disturbing, because there's a lot of police involved,” Kennedy told Motherboard. “Inside Safe has cops. And you're under a definite threat of harm from law enforcement, because they're armed, and there's a lot of them.” She said the presence of police can often exacerbate tense situations. At an Inside Safe operation at 6th and Fairfax that otherwise went smoothly because the local council member was working in collaboration with a mutual aid group , Kennedy said police were initially hanging back, until a man refused to agree on camera to have his tent removed. “The reason he got anxiety-ridden, started acting stressed out, and they called the cops is because they were trying to force him to agree on video. And he wouldn't do it, and they kept pushing him,” Kennedy said. 01.19.23 “They call the police because they're scared. That creates pressure, and then they have more symptoms,” Kennedy said. She said police surrounded the man until city council staffers helped defuse the situation. The man was not arrested, but he was escorted away by a service provider while his tent was removed, Kennedy said. The city’s description of Inside Safe makes clear that the encampments will be permanently removed. While the city doesn’t officially create a 41.18 zone for each clearance, police have been monitoring encampments cleared by Inside Safe and asking returnees to leave. “In Venice, the cops came and they told everybody you're not going to be able to return. You either leave, or you accept these hotel rooms that they're going to give you, that’s that,” Kennedy said. Orendorff, the mutual aid volunteer who organizes with Aetna Street residents, said the encampment is in an active 41.18 zone by a metro stop and a police station. In 2020 and 2021, the encampment was facing weekly police sweeps. Orendorff says, counterintuitively, the sweeps stopped when 41.18 went into effect over a year ago, mainly because the Aetna Street community was adamant that they would refuse to move. The fight against 41.18 helped build comradery among the group that eventually wrote the letter. Residents weren’t sure what to expect from the new mayor, but were put off by stories they were hearing about Inside Safe. Many of them had already been through a local A Bridge Home shelter and through Project Roomkey, another motel-based program that began in the early months of the pandemic, but they say they never received permanent housing through those programs. Orendorff says no one who has engaged residents so far has identified themselves as part of “Inside Safe,” something other mutual aid volunteers noticed as well. “A few people were told to be ready on Monday morning, and that everybody was going to be offered a room and that it wouldn't be like the shelter, it was going to be something different,” Orendorff said. “People were asking if it was possibly Inside Safe, and they weren't naming it.” She says residents penned the letter to help guide the city, as residents have lived experience with the city’s homeless programs. They want it to lead to a conversation with the mayor. “They wanted to make it very clear. People have been trying to talk about these programs and what could make this less carceral, more humane?,” she said. “What are some really practical ways these programs could be shifted to actually accommodate people, because there's been problems every step along the way.” The Bass administration did not respond to a list of questions about Inside Safe.
LA Family Housing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When was LA Family Housing founded?
LA Family Housing was founded in 1986.
Where is LA Family Housing's headquarters?
LA Family Housing's headquarters is located at 7843 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood.
What is LA Family Housing's latest funding round?
LA Family Housing's latest funding round is Grant - II.
How much did LA Family Housing raise?
LA Family Housing raised a total of $5.01M.
Who are the investors of LA Family Housing?
Investors of LA Family Housing include Sterling Bancorp and Bezos Day One Fund.
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