When I asked LA Councilman Kevin de León how things were going at the tiny village of Eagle Rock, which opened in March, he got good news and bad news.
Many encampments have disappeared and those who used to live in tents are now in safe and clean quarters with access to food and toilets. The counselor pulled out his camera to show me the “before” photos of people living in squalor, sheltering under freeway overpasses and fending off rodents.
But the small home record is mixed so far, and De León told a story to illustrate his point. He said he was about to meet a friend for dinner in the neighborhood recently when he saw a storm of police activity at a gas station on Colorado and Eagle Rock boulevards.
“We have a gentleman who is having a psychotic breakdown, and he has a blowtorch,” De León recalled being told by an officer at the scene.
De León said the troubled young man appeared to be threatening to blow up his mother’s vehicle and the gas station.
“A shrink team was there, trying to hire him,” De León said, but it didn’t work. So the police fired non-lethal ammunition and apprehended the man for psychiatric confinement.
When De León heard the man’s name, he thought, “I know him.”
The man had been a resident of the small native village. Getting people in the door is hard enough, De León said. But reorienting the lives of people facing serious problems is complicated by a lack of services they desperately need.
“My staff and I, along with salt of the earth social workers, are doing our job of getting people off the streets and putting a roof over their heads,” De León said. “We need the county to do what it is tasked to do and provide the mental health services and addiction treatment services that our homeless neighbors are crying out for.”
I had contacted De León because it had been almost six months of operation for the village of Eagle Rock and almost a year for that of nearby Highland Park. And in the mayoral race, Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso both have more tiny homes in their homelessness solutions packages.
Caruso, under a nearly billion-dollar plan that sounds ambitious at best and impossible at worst, says it will house 30,000 people in its first year. And 15,000 of them would be temporarily relocated to tiny homes on 300 government plots.
Even if he could pull off such a gargantuan task and figure out how to pay for it, a close look at the villages of Eagle Rock and Highland Park makes it clear that getting someone in the front door is only half the battle. the battle.
I asked for the details and am awaiting a response from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, but this is known:
Some residents were evicted for breaking the rules. Some chose to leave. Some got addiction and mental health counseling, some didn’t. Some have been moved to permanent housing or joined family members, but many are still waiting in a long queue for housing, and many still do not have the government vouchers needed for placement. permanent.
“To end homelessness for small house residents and all of our homeless neighbors, our community needs hundreds of thousands of affordable homes,” said Emily Andrade, Interim Housing Director for LAHSA.
Andrade said more mental health and addiction treatment resources are also needed.
I would agree. But what’s hard to fathom, De León told me more than once, is that with a county mental health budget of around $3 billion, the streets are home to so many seriously troubled souls.
“You give me $3 billion, and I’ll take it off the streets,” he said.
One problem, other than the obvious failures of massive bureaucracies, is a long history of poor coordination and outright bickering between city and county agencies. There were squabbles this year after the city agreed, but the county was reluctant to settle a federal lawsuit over homelessness management.
The county finally agreed several days ago to ramp up temporary and permanent housing services in the city, but the numbers aren’t expected to turn the tide. For example, the county’s promised addiction and mental health supplemental beds are 300. At first glance, I wondered if a zero or two was accidentally omitted.
“There are quite a few people who don’t belong in Tiny Houses or the Roomkey Project because they are so seriously mentally ill,” De León said. “They belong to a bed with the county…and the agreed 300 beds just aren’t enough.”
Jane Demian, Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council homelessness liaison, told me she knew the man who was apprehended at the gas station.
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“He has a history of schizophrenia, and he’s been on the streets for a long time, and rather than put him in touch with mental health services – which might not be available right now – they put him in a small home,” Demian said. “He didn’t do well because he needs a higher level of care, and that’s what’s happening.”
And yet, Demian told me she’s “cautiously optimistic” that the Small Home Villages will serve a valuable purpose for their residents and the community. As for the latter, she said, people are happy to see fewer encampments, but some who live near villages have complained about drug use and other activities.
Demian regularly visits residents of tiny homes and said “the majority of them are happy to be there, although some would like to have more contact with their case manager and more services.”
Outside the small village of Highland Park, I met a guy who wished he could walk through the gates.
“I liked that in there,” said Daniel, who told me he was kicked out for an altercation while defending his friend Candy.
Daniel told me that he works as a security guard when he can, and to be close to Candy, he sleeps in a friend’s car near the village. Both said they were among the first residents last November and expect to be moved to permanent accommodation at the current time. But the queue is long and they are far from ahead.
On the street near the village of Eagle Rock, Gary told me he had been kicked out for an altercation and was living on the street again. Yesenia is still a resident and said she loved the village but wanted more help for her mental illness.
Ron, who in March moved from an RV to a small house in Eagle Rock, seemed grateful for his humble home.
“Some troublemakers have been deported, but everyone who is still here has a lawyer to help them, and they help us with just about everything,” said Ron, who told me that at 65 he couldn’t pay rent anywhere on the slim. salary he earned in various odd jobs.
Ron said a much-needed improvement was more mental health services for some of his neighbours, and he believed he would have already been lined up with permanent housing. But he doesn’t even have a good home yet.
I asked if he knew when that might happen.
“Hopefully soon,” he said.