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How Los Angeles Is Approaching Homelessness

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How Los Angeles Is Approaching Homelessness

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About 171,000 people living in California are homeless, a total that has grown significantly over the past decade. If you live here, this has surely not gone without notice, as encampments have popped up on sidewalks and in public parks across the state in recent years.

Though California accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s population, the state is home to 30 percent of all homeless people in the United States.

My colleague Jill Cowan recently wrote about a new program spearheaded by Mayor Karen Bass of Los Angeles that’s aimed at eliminating the most visible encampments in the city. Bass took office in late 2022, and the program, Inside Safe, is at the core of her efforts to solve homelessness.

The program provides motel rooms for homeless residents who agree to leave encampments, a shift from sweeps in which officials clear encampments and force people to leave. But while Inside Safe has moved more than 2,100 people into shelters, only 400 of them have since moved into permanent housing. That’s drawn criticism that the program is only a short-term fix and perhaps more for optics than helping Angelenos most in need.

You can read Jill’s full article here.

I spoke to Jill about her article and her reporting, which spanned more than a year. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited:

Why did you decide to focus on Inside Safe?

Because it was the mayor’s focus — it was the program she touted the most and it was meant to address some of the people who need it most.

You reported that through Inside Safe and other programs, L.A. moved 21,000 people off the street and into temporary housing in 2023, about 4,000 more than it did in the prior year. How are Bass’s efforts seemingly more effective than her predecessors’?

There were a few things that Bass has done differently and not all of them are related to Inside Safe, but it’s a useful place to start. The level of coordination and focus on a specific encampment were new for Inside Safe: It was important to follow through on promises of shelter, and for that shelter to be individual rooms, as opposed to big congregate shelters, which make a lot of homeless people feel unsafe or like they don’t have privacy. Bass has also emphasized her relationships across government agencies, like with members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and with leaders in the federal government, to help get everybody rowing in the same direction, which experts say is a bigger change than you might think.

You live in L.A. When you drive or walk around the city, does it feel as if the reduction in encampments is noticeable?

I think so. It certainly isn’t true to say that there are no encampments anywhere. But there are also a lot of public spaces where there were wall-to-wall tent encampments covering sidewalks or in parks, and many of those are no longer there. Venice is an example that many of the mayor’s allies point to, and the difference there is really striking. I live near Echo Park Lake, and during the pandemic there were a lot of encampments around that area, but I have seen very few tents in the last year or so.

What’s the pushback to the program been?

A longtime criticism of Los Angeles’s — and many cities’ — approach to homelessness is that it prioritizes the experience of housed residents at the expense of stably getting people experiencing homelessness into homes. To be clear, a lot of progressives and homeless advocates say they prefer Bass’s general approach to sweeps, where people are forced to leave encampments.

But they say that Inside Safe still essentially closes off large parts of public space to people who may not have homes but still have a right to be in public. Because once an encampment is gone, the city or other agencies often put up barriers or, in some cases, enforce the city’s anti-camping ordinance to ensure people don’t come back to that area.

What has Bass said in response to this criticism?

She has been open about the fact that making visible progress for the benefit of voters is a top priority and she says that Inside Safe, for all its imperfections, is getting people in need off the street quickly. Leaving them there while they’re on a waiting list for temporary or permanent housing is not an option, in her view. She sees her work now as almost like triaging the situation in the time it takes to get more housing built.

Wait, she’s been open about the fact that Inside Safe is somewhat for image? Or is she casting it in some other less cynical way?

She has been open about the fact that it’s designed in part to satisfy voters.

Fascinating. OK, anything else about the story you want to share?

Just that this is an ongoing issue. Experts on housing and homelessness told me they were optimistic about Bass’s work and approach, but she needs time.



Amid all the upheaval of the pandemic, there have been moments of hope and positive change. What have been your pandemic silver linings? Tell us at CAtoday@nytimes.com.


Stacey Terterian grew up in Fresno, but during a recent visit to Armenia she discovered a deep connection to the country she says feels like home

Terterian, whose family has roots in Armenia, decided to join a service program called the Armenian Volunteer Corp in August 2023 after a challenging period in her personal life. The trip brought her to Armenia for the second time in her life.

Terterian’s volunteering involved assisting Armenians who were affected by the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic enclave of Armenians in Azerbaijan. Then, in September 2023, Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh, taking control of the region and causing more than 100,000 Armenians to flee. Suddenly, Terterian found herself on the front lines of the crisis, providing aid to the refugees and, through that experience, locating a deep connection to Armenia and its people.

Terterian describes the course-changing visit in a recent essay in The Fresno Bee. “A picturesque land, rich in both beauty and history. Armenians know despair; they know resilience as well. My journey embodies that spirit,” she wrote.

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