Two weeks ago, at a special meeting, the Whittier City Council declared a shelter bed crisis. On Monday, at a second special meeting, the Council met to decide how to leverage the city’s new state of emergency to solve its homelessness crisis.
In reaction to the anger and frustration at Public Comment two weeks ago, Council had instructed staff to report on suggestions made in Public Comment and offer recommended priorities. The resulting report prioritized criminalization over services.
Assistant City Manager Shannon DeLong, who prepared the report, said, “Cities are faced with the situation that not all of the needs are being addressed, so the question then becomes: to what extent does the council, based upon the individual needs of a community, want to take on additional duties, responsibilities.”
On Monday, however, there was little debate about the immediate need for beds and services. “Unless we are actually actively going out of our way to house these individuals, the state of emergency doesn’t mean anything,” Councilmember Josue Alvarado said.
Mayor Pro Tem Fernando Dutra said, “I’m in favor of beds with services.”
“I personally think that a lot of the things we’re experiencing right now has to do with our city’s non-willingness to be a direct participant in the solution,” Alvarado said. “We’ve relied so long on the non-profits, and they’ve done a great job of managing and helping us with this issue for decades, but now it’s gotten to a critical mass point, in my personal opinion, where homelessness is being used to cover for criminal activity.”
Members of Council discussed whether to create a regional or a local shelter. A regional solution would cost less, but a local shelter would let Whittier call the shots.
“The creation of shelter beds can be done on a regional level with multiple partners and therefore access to multiple funding sources,” DeLong said. “Or it could be done just by the city and the city could somehow magically come up with all of the necessary funds to construct and operate a shelter on its own.”
Federal, county, and state funds are available for shelter construction, but operating funds to provide wraparound services or continuum of care are only available through LAHSA, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, DeLong said.
During the Council discussion, Councilmember Henry Bouchot described a successful joint powers shelter project in Pomona: “In the Pomona shelter case, they did a phased approach. They did wrap-around services, but they didn’t do it all at once. They started with the essential components–the beds and normal services–and then expanded those out.”
At Monday’s meeting, members of Council also agreed to fund a homeless census to determine the specific needs of the local population. As Councilmember Cathy Warner put it, “I feel like I’m throwing darts at the wall, but I don’t know where the target is.”
A census would be used to direct services. “You might find out it’s not mental health. It might be drug rehab. You might find out it’s not drug rehab, it’s domestic abuse,” Alvarado said. “We need to put the whole picture together so if we develop this regional center, it’s developed in a way that houses the services that Whittier residents that are experiencing homlessness need immediately.”
Ultimately, the Council committed to a 30-60-90 day schedule:
- 30 days to a) engage a census consultant, and b) produce an RFQ in preparation for a regional solution with neighboring cities;
- 60 days to a) complete the Whittier homeless census, and b) identify potential joint authority partners for regional shelter; and,
- 90 days to commit to a project, whether regional or local.
DeLong said that residents can help solve the shelter bed crisis too. “There are a number of things that Whittier residents can do, whether it’s volunteering with Whittier First Day, or with Jovenes,” she said.
“The Jovenes host family program helps young people under 25 who are homeless and housing insecure. “There’s actually financial incentive if someone has a spare room in their home to take in a young person who would otherwise be homeless,” DeLong said.
“There’s also the LeaseUp Los Angeles program, where a landlord can sign up for additional incentives and security deposit and insurance and things that can help facilitate a quicker turnover if they need to fill a unit, but also help a family recover from homelessness faster,” she added.
More than half of unhoused residents are homeless for the first time thanks to economic hardship. However, “We have been told by numerous social service providers that many folks have vouchers that are expiring because they can’t find a place that will take their voucher,” DeLong said.