Home For Good
A Better Response to Unsheltered Homelessness
The United Way of Greater L.A.’s Home For Good (HFG) initiative is focused on using our power and position to collaboratively drive homelessness solutions that scale. Since our launch 11 years ago, we have proudly partnered with the public sector to build a coordinated regional response to homelessness that integrates healthcare, accelerates supportive housing, and expands shelter options. While our strong partnership with the public sector continues, that partnership requires open and honest communication, especially when we disagree.
We join thousands of concerned individuals and organizations to express our strong concerns about the direction we are heading as a community and region. Recent involvement from a federal judge is driving elected leaders to trade investments in permanent solutions for faster, cheaper interim solutions with no quality standards and no intentional pathways to ending homelessness.
As a solutions-focused initiative, HFG recognizes that maintaining widespread public support for long-term solutions is connected to our ability to credibly impact the humanitarian crisis on our streets. That is why we interviewed over 150 stakeholders, incorporated their ideas, and used our best judgement to reflect the strategic interests of the broader community. The result is The Street Strategy for L.A. County which highlights 10 strategies and three core values that elected leaders should review as they reflect on the judge’s order to clear Skid Row, what happened in Echo Park, and how we chose to move forward together.
There’s A Better Path Forward
Credible strategies to address the crisis on our streets must center those experiencing unsheltered homelessness while also acknowledging the needs of the broader community. That’s why the HFG team created The Street Strategy Annex, which unpacks strategy #10 and provides concrete recommendations for managing encampments with more consistency and predictability.
We cannot continue the paradoxical injustice of broadly criminalizing unsheltered homelessness across Los Angeles County while we continue to have a massive shortage of affordable housing and shelter. Instead, we must take a balanced approach: Use an inclusive, transparent, and collaborative community processes to reach consensus about the use of shared public space and make it clear where people can safely sleep with minimum standards of dignity, safety, and connection.
Responding to unsheltered homelessness more ethically, collaboratively, consistently, and predictably also requires philosophical and resource alignment that many jurisdictions in L.A. County must now stitch together. A better approach requires:
- Minimizing the role of law enforcement while we abolish current “public safety” constructs/systems and redirecting those resources toward a reimagined vision of human-centered public safety – one where unhoused Black people are respected, protected, and supported;
- Transparent and consistent policies, protocols, and frameworks for place-based interventions;
- Objective, person-centered criteria for evaluating the safety of encampments, establishing reasonable thresholds for service-rich intervention, and ensuring safe alternatives are available in advance of cleanup or closure;
- Accounting and correcting for inequities that are often exacerbated by place-based interventions;
- Proactive, deployable, and capable outreach and psychiatric response teams combined with accessible daytime services, and expanded hygiene and sanitation services in every neighborhood; and,
- Rethinking how we measure and benchmark success across jurisdictions.
All of this must occur while we continue to scale affordable housing, expand safe shelter capacity, and prevent evictions that drive inflow to homelessness.
Why Now? We’re heading in the wrong direction.
To be clear – what the City of Los Angeles chose to do in Echo Park on March 24th was not a successful model for responding to unsheltered homelessness and should not be replicated in Skid Row or any other community. In fact, it was an outdated misuse of policing power and resources, an unnecessary tactic to bring people inside, and an ineffective long-term strategy to reach community compromise as we address unsheltered homelessness in shared public spaces. By any objective measure, there are better approaches.
An Outdated Misuse of Policing Power & Resources
The HFG team joined the Movement for Black Lives and supported calls for reimagining the L.A. County budget and the future of L.A., because it is abundantly clear that we have overinvested in policing relative to the needs of our residents, especially our Black and brown neighbors who disproportionally experience homelessness.
Until we transform what “public safety” should entail, we will have to find common ground about a constructive role for law enforcement agencies. However, the Echo Park police action is not where we should aim.
An Unnecessary Tactic to Bring People Inside
The unhoused residents of Echo Park and Skid Row are among almost 30,000 unsheltered residents surviving in the City of Los Angeles, and all of them deserve our attention, advocacy, and resources. After the park’s closure, some officials called it the most successful rehousing effort in the City’s history. We disagree.
The City of Los Angeles need not point to Echo Park as the most credible example of its rehousing capacity, because the City has demonstrated it can bring thousands of people safely into shelters and is gearing up for thousands more. Through projects like A Bridge Home, the Mass Shelter Expansion Plan, Project Roomkey, Project Homekey, the Homelessness Roadmap, and Proposition HHH, the City is clearly capable of expanding shelter and housing capacity at a scale that begins to approach the size of our unsheltered crisis – but we still have a long way to go. The tactic used in Echo Park was an unforced error in judgement that does not speak to the true capacity of our rehousing system.
An Ineffective Long-Term Strategy
As long as Los Angeles has a housing and shelter shortage, people will continue to live in public spaces, and community pressure to “do something” about encampments will continue. But moving homelessness is not solving it, and the Echo Park approach damages the trust we have in each other and our confidence in collective strategies to permanently end this humanitarian crisis. To rebuild confidence in a collective impact approach, public leaders must correct the lack of transparency and inconsistencies that continue to raise questions and sow doubt about our place-based responses.
The United Way of Greater L.A. and Home For Good are committed to a strong and enduring partnership with the City and County of Los Angeles in the fight to end homelessness, and the sincerity of that partnership calls for candor about what happened in Echo Park, what we should collectively learn from it, and how we collectively respond to a federal order to clear Skid Row. Moving forward, we expect our public partners to return to a strategic agenda of scaling our housing and shelter solutions, reversing the over-investment in policing, and collaboratively managing encampments with consistency, transparency, and predictability. In the end, the effectiveness of a more consistent approach should not only be measured by the absence of encampments on our streets, but by the number of people whose health and housing stability improved as a result of our engagement.
Citations & References
McGahan, Jason. The Homeless Republic of Echo Park: Life (and a Death) in L.A.’s Fastest-Growing Tent City, Los Angeles Magazine, December 23, 2020, https://www.lamag.com/mag-features/echo-park-lake-encampment/.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Interim Guidance on Unsheltered Homelessness and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for Homeless Service Providers and Local Officials, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/homeless-shelters/unsheltered-homelessness.html.
Kalish, Lil, Los Angeles Cops Bring the Echo Park Tent Community to a Violent End, Mother Jones, March 27, 2021, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/03/los-angeles-cops-echo-park-tent-sweep/.
Scott, Anna, Los Angeles Sparks Tension With Shutdown Of Echo Park Homeless Encampment, National Public Radio, All Things Considered, March 25, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/03/25/981309861/los-angeles-sparks-tension-with-shutdown-of-echo-park-homeless-encampment.
Housing Not Handcuffs 2019: Ending the Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, December 2019, http://nlchp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/HOUSING-NOT-HANDCUFFS-2019-FINAL.pdf.
Llewellyn, Richard and Sharon Tso, Reinvestment of Funds from the Police Department to Impacted Communities (C.F. 20-0600-S83), City of Los Angeles Inter-Departmental Correspondence, February 25, 2021, https://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2020/20-0600-S83_misc_2-25-2021.pdf.
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count for the City of Los Angeles, July 20, 2020, https://www.lahsa.org/documents?id=4680-2020-greater-los-angeles-homeless-count-city-of-los-angeles.
L.A. Will Open Thousands of Temporary Shelter Beds for Homeless Angelenos as Part of COVID-19 Response, Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, March 18, 2020. https://www.lamayor.org/mayor-garcetti-la-will-open-thousands-temporary-shelter-beds-homeless-angelenos-part-covid-19.
United States District Court, Central District of California, LA Alliance for Human Rights, et. al. V. City of Los Angeles, et. Al., Case No. LA CV 20-02291-DOC-(KESx), Document 277 – Preliminary Injunction, Filed 4/20/21. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ytnYrv3W5REovP0_t-XVzOIuItr2WQQW/view