Let Me Be Clear: A Shelter is NOT a Home

SKID ROW, DTLA-Last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address focused a great deal on creating shelters across the City to house thousands of needy homeless people. While at face value it may sound like a good thing, a deeper probe uncovers numerous harsh realities. 

To start, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) statistics claim there are around 35K homeless people within the City of Los Angeles (and nearly 60K homeless people within LA County). The City of Los Angeles solely is in control of the November 2016 voter-approved Measure HHH that comes with a newly created funding pot in the amount of $1.2 billion dollars to provide housing for up to ten thousand homeless people. 

It MUST be made clear that shelter “housing” is not a home! Therefore, ZERO Measure HHH dollars can go towards shelters -- which by its own definition refers to something “temporary.” But this is when the “political double talk” begins and too many people become lost, lose interest or blindly trust in the decisions of our political leaders. 

Watch this: If a politician gives a speech and says, “We need to build more affordable housing for the homeless,” and in another speech says, “We need to provide more shelters for the homeless,” what are they saying? Is this the same thing…or two different things? 

People seem to be divided on what has been said and what has actually been meant. So how can We the People hold our elected officials accountable when most of us don’t understand what’s being said in the first place? 

Furthermore, if one elected official states, “The City has identified 12 parcels across the City to provide housing for the homeless,” and then another says, “The City has already identified 12 parcels across the City to provide trailers for shelter for the homeless,” are they talking about the same thing? Are they talking about the very same 12 parcels? 

Common sense and logic tells us that if constructing permanent supportive housing takes a minimum of two to three years to build from the ground up, while that construction is happening there CANNOT be temporary shelters placed anywhere in the construction zones. So, again, where are these specific locations for housing and where are the specific locations for shelters? Could the City of LA be hinting at eminent domain? 

Again, for the record, a shelter is not a home! A person sleeping in a shelter is still homeless; they are just indoors. 

So, do we want ONLY temporary shelters across the city? Or do we want shelters andpermanent supportive housing across the city? Or do we want ONLY permanent supportive housing? Or is there some other option? 

As a community activist in Skid Row, I know firsthand that just because there may be new shelters across the city, there are no guarantees that homeless people will leave where they are now to stay in temporary shelters. How is it comforting to a homeless person when the shelter that’s offered is “temporary”? Many people who are homeless don’t want to stay in the shelters that are already available, for various reasons – a fact that should also be considered in discussions regarding opening new shelters. 

A few examples of the many valid concerns that men, women and families have about sleeping in shelters include the constant presence of bed bugs, lack of adequate security personnel, and the disrespect by staff at the facility. 

Other well-documented problems include lack of adequate storage, constant threats of potential rape and/or sexual assault and another glaring factor, the concept that shelter housing has always been intended to be nothing more than “overnight sleeping facilities” with little to no support services such as onsite mental health and/or physical health needs. At best, homeless clients can get a referral to another service facility. Regardless of whether the person accepts the referral or not, on paper it looks like a “service” was provided, even if it wasn’t. 

So, Mayor Garcetti must use a funding pot totally separate from Measure HHH funding if he is to provide all the shelters he publicly committed to in his State of the City speech. (NOTE: The Measure H funding pot which is strictly for services is controlled solely by the County of LA.) The question then becomes, what good are shelters without the necessary services connected to them? 

If LA County is going to “partner” with Garcetti to provide services for his shelters, will that funding come from Measure H? This creates a new concern that permanent supportive housing may not actually have supportive services attached long-term -- as intended and approved by voters -- if a significant amount is going to be used first to provide services to all these new shelters in the City. Is there a plan to replace all of that “borrowed funding” later down the line? Have any of the actual locations been identified? Or do we have to wait on that, too? 

What will happen when the “temporary” shelters run out of funding a couple years from now? Will they become “permanent” shelters? Some say, “The voters will be tricked into taxing themselves again.” None of the current batch of politicians will be around by then (unless one of the City Council members becomes our next Mayor), so are they even concerned about what happens in their council districts now or in the next couple of years? 

It is the duty of We, the People to be more proactive as the homeless crisis continues to expand at an alarming rate. Demanding specificity on all levels is crucial. Discussions must be implemented in community meetings whenever politicians are involved. 

But first, We, the People need to be better versed on the subject. If living in a shelter is just being homeless indoors, how would that appeal to homeless people who’ve been living on the sidewalks for years? And why would they voluntarily accept it? 

Sounds more like a temporary quick-fix to silence all the public complaints about seeing homeless people everywhere. They’ll still be homeless, you just won’t see them. Will that end up being a solution for them or a solution for you? 

A lot of folks are hellbent to a state of near-panic, scrambling to implement “instant solutions” for the homeless problem. But just like instant microwave foods, we are missing the necessary nutrients. We are at an important moment. We have an opportunity to lay down a properly-functioning foundation from which future solutions can evolve, providing much-needed assistance for all homeless people in the future. But if this chance is squandered, both LAPD and LASD will aggressively overcrowd LA county jails like never before -- simply because people are homeless. 

How many more times will Angelenos tax themselves to provide new funding pots to politicians – none of whom ran on platforms addressing homelessness or have previous experience dealing with the homeless issue. Why would we expect any of them to be “experts” on the subject? 

Angelenos need to do a better job of selecting and/or electing people who know what’s really going on and are willing to share the truth with the rest of us. There is no room for idiocies or deception! 

It starts by learning to recognize deception in the first place: Remember, a shelter is not a home. So why waste permanent funding on temporary solutions that aren’t well-thought out enough to make any accounting sense? And who will run all these shelters and where will that funding come from? The non-profit organizations that currently run shelters are licking their chops at the billions of dollars that will be available. 

No shovels have yet broken ground to begin new construction on the badly-needed permanent supportive housing units which Measure HHH was specifically approved to provide. Most certainly, the City of LA anticipates elongated NIMBY fights across the city. That will make “temporary” shelters sound like a viable solution. But is it? 

(NOTE: The 2018 Homeless Count numbers will be officially released at the end of next month. All signs point to another increase in homelessness.)


(General Jeff … Jeff Page … is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.