Faced with the imminent closure of an urban campground for the homeless, Los Angeles city officials worked hurriedly and amid some confusion Wednesday to find alternative shelter for those who may find themselves back on the streets.
The City Council's Grant, Housing and Community Development Committee voted Wednesday to set aside $31,000 for hotel vouchers to house homeless people forced to leave when the camp is dismantled Friday.
Since opening last June, the 12-acre site at 320 S. Santa Fe Ave. has been a temporary home for many of the city's homeless population. More than 2,600 people have spent some time at the camp, which is run by the Salvation Army at city expense on a strip of land beside the Los Angeles River.
But for the 350 people who continue to live there, the urban campground will vanish when the city's agreement with the Southern California Rapid Transit District, which owns the land, expires Friday.
Can Be Exchanged
The city-financed vouchers, which can be exchanged for a night in a Skid Row-type hotel, could be depleted over the weekend, depending on how many people seek them.
According to a city survey, more than half of the occupants interviewed said they had no idea where they would go if evicted from the camp.
Although city officials have already moved out families and have sought to place remaining camp residents in other shelters, Councilman Robert Farrell said Wednesday that closing down the facility will still be difficult amid confusion over the future of the camp residents.
"For those who have no fixed place to go, the option is clearly the street," said Farrell, who heads the Grant, Housing and Community Development Committee.
It was Farrell's committee that voted unanimously to approve the money for 3,000 "shelter bed and transit vouchers as a one-time only measure to mitigate the impact of the urban campground closure."
The City Council must still approve the funding request Friday, but the voucher plan is not expected to encounter strong opposition. The full council Wednesday voted to extend Mayor Tom Bradley's declaration of a "local emergency," which enables city officials to provide help for the homeless.
According to the city administrative officer, Los Angeles has already spent approximately $2.3 million on homeless services this year. But Farrell and other committee members said Wednesday that the estimate was incomplete and that the actual figure may soar to as much as $8 million.
That would include $1.5 million for 102 mobile homes bought by the city to shelter people throughout Los Angeles' 15 council districts, Farrell said, as part of a long-term solution to the homeless problem.
But for some of the homeless, their immediate problem is how to survive the weekend when authorities start collecting the blankets and folding the cots Friday morning.
David Portee, who has been at the camp since it opened June 15, told council members Wednesday that some residents are desperate.
"There are people there who have no place to go. If they have no place to go, they won't leave," he said.
At the committee meeting, the council members also heard that some homeless advocates will be seeking a temporary restraining order today in hopes of forcing the city to keep the campground open.
But if it closes on schedule, Susan Cleere Flores, director of the human services division of the city Community Development Department, told committee members that county officials, as well as those from other agencies, will be present to aid the homeless who qualify for various types of assistance.