Election 2020 Citizens Agenda: Can West Hollywood Do More About Homelessness?

The candidates in the Nov. 2 West Hollywood City Council election (left to right, from the top row): Larry Block, Jerome Cleary, Marco Colantonio, Tom DeMille, John Duran, John Erickson, John Heilman, Christopher McDonald, Noemi Torres, Sepi Shyne, Mark Farhad Yusupov

This is the seventh of eight questions WEHOville presented on Aug. 18 to the candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council. The questions are based on suggestions from West Hollywood residents — the citizens of WeHo. Monday’s question and the answers can be found here. Tuesday’s can be found here. And Wednesday’s can be found here. Here’s a link to Thursday’s question, one to Friday’s, and one to Saturday’s.

The Question:  Is There Anything More West Hollywood Can Do to Address Homelessness?

Homelessness continues to be a major issue in West Hollywood and across all of Los Angeles County. It is not a problem that West Hollywood can solve on its own. But are there more steps the city could take to address some of the issues? Provide transitional housing to homeless (or near homeless) people who live and work in West Hollywood — perhaps by following the model of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and acquiring the Holloway Motel? Or inviting (and subsidizing) L.A.’s LavaMae shower bus for the homeless? Or encouraging owners of local hotels to work with non-profits that train homeless people to work in the hospitality industry? Your thoughts?

John Erickson

I am appalled by the efforts of some of our regional neighbors to criminalize homelessness or pass their responsibility to develop affordable housing options on to other communities. I have supported the development of affordable housing units for homeless residents of West Hollywood, including LGBTQ youth and seniors, and I will continue to support the creation of housing for homeless residents, as well as supportive services, and fight back against rampant attacks on affordable housing development.

I have supported our relationship with the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) to develop affordable housing options for low-income seniors and immigrants, formerly homeless individuals, LGBTQ+ youth, and veterans. I was in favor of budget increases to provide wrap-around services for homeless individuals, which have successfully gotten more than 20% of our homeless population off the street in and into shelter and care.

We currently have a policy in place to directly contact homeless people about the availability of services and support to get them off the streets. We fund services for addiction, mental health, job training, and other barriers to getting back into housing and having a stable career and steady source of income. While it has not yet been 100% successful, we’ve placed more than 20% of our identified homeless population into housing and services.

West Hollywood has done a lot, and we are a proud leader in this space, but we have not done enough. None of us have. I believe that housing is a core issue that must be addressed if we are truly going to address systemic reform and create a more just, equitable and sustainable society. I will do everything I can to provide relief for today and hope for tomorrow.

John Heilman

West Hollywood cannot solve homelessness on its own. What we have been doing is the following:

  1. Identifying current residents who are at risk of homelessness due to financial or mental health problems. Providing rental assistance to those with short-term financial issues which can trigger homelessness. For residents who have mental health issues, providing services and support to address issues which might result in loss of current housing.
  2. Funding outreach workers from multiple agencies to connect currently homeless individuals with services, shelter or available housing.
  3. Working with mental health specialists from the county to assist homeless individuals with mental health problems.

We have had successes in getting some people off the streets and into shelters, but these are usually people who are not as visible to the community. Unfortunately, our programs have been less successful with homeless individuals suffering from severe mental illness or untreated substance abuse. Some of these individuals will not accept assistance or they are resistant to receiving the type of mental health or substance abuse treatment necessary to address their issues. This is where we need help from county and state leaders to change current state laws. Cities and counties need greater power to address these issues. In other states, courts are able to order ongoing treatment for individuals who are unable to care for themselves due to severe mental illness.

Through the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, we have already built some units that target individuals who were recently homeless or at risk of homelessness. We also are currently looking at building transitional units on city-owned property. We have explored the acquisition of existing properties, including several small motels which exist in the city.

Those properties are not available, but we used several of these properties to provide housing for homeless individuals who are awaiting placement in a treatment program or who are awaiting to move-in to permanent shelter.

Leaders in our business community have already been partnering on training homeless people to work in local businesses. Some of the graduates of these programs have already secured jobs in the hospitality sector. We should always be looking at how we can expand these programs so we can lift people out of homelessness and into self-sufficiency.

Christopher McDonald

It’s no secret that the issue of homelessness is something very real in West Hollywood. The reality is that it’s a complex issue that doesn’t have a quick fix solution. Currently it’s not against the law to sleep overnight outside on public property. So to really combat the issue, it’s going to take two very important things — outreach and resources. Many feel, as I do, that more affordable housing will absolutely help with the issue of homelessness, but that won’t single-handedly solve this issue, because this is not a one-size-fits-all issue. The reasons for homelessness differ drastically from one person to another — whether it be because of joblessness or substance abuse issues or mental health problems.

I believe we need to meet people where they are. Meaning that we need to provide more persistent and consistent outreach to the homeless community. We need to find out what issues they are experiencing and how we can steer them in the direction of proper resources. To do this we will need to create a task group of health care professionals that go into the community and take the time to build up a trust and relationship with these individuals. Speaking directly with people experiencing homelessness. The main goal of this outreach will be to get those people struggling with homelessness off the streets and connected to the appropriate resources. This is something that will take consistency and time. Someone who is dealing with homelessness due to joblessness and falling on hard times might be easier to connect with and someone with mental illness might require a lot more attention and care and it may take a longer time to build up a relationship and provide them with proper resources.

This is not an issue we can take a band aid approach with. It’s important as a city that we are fully invested in working to solve this problem long term. So, while this is not going to be an easy or simple fix, I do believe if we put our time, energy, and funding to provide the outreach and resources needed, we can drastically improve the homelessness situation in West Hollywood.

Noemi Torres

All of the above are great ideas, and I’d like to propose a safe haven space for the unhoused to get their main essentials met such as bathroom use, showering and get social service support. We have plenty of space at Plummer Park, and that would be something I have been and will keep working with organizations such as Ascencia, Everyone In and AIDS Healthcare Foundation to make this space a reality.

Sepi Shyne

We were given $300,000 from Measure H to find a site to create a shelter or permanent supportive housing in West Hollywood. This will help house some of our homeless, but because we are an island between other cities and our homeless crisis is statewide, we need to do more, including expanding our outreach team so they are able to provide more ongoing needed outreach.

I would like to explore the possibility of building standalone 24-hour bathroom/shower facilities so our unhoused neighbors can have access to facilities rather than being forced to use our streets for relief. We can do this by partnering with the county on the development of this across local cities. These bathrooms can utilize blue light technology to prevent being used by people using substances through the use of needles because they cannot see their veins with the blue light. This will keep the bathrooms sanitary and for their intended use.

Mark Farhad Yusupov

It is true that West Hollywood cannot solve the homelessness crisis on its own and that a concerted effort among all municipalities in Los Angeles County is necessary. We must demand more funding from the federal government and work with our state and private sector partners to address homelessness, the lack of affordable housing, and provide financing for mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment.

The initiatives that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other nonprofits are doing are highly admirable. Our city should support their efforts to reduce the number of homeless on the street and provide better health and safety to service them better.

One of the promising ideas that can increase the number of transitional or affordable permanent housing on the county level is to use modular construction to build them. With advances in its manufacturing technology, modular construction is a significantly less costly and faster way to create new quality housing. Unfortunately, I do not think the city itself is currently in a financial position to acquire any hotels at this time. Still, we need to work with the county and state on increasing financial help to provide those types of safe spaces for our homeless residents.

Many people are struggling financially these days, and with the impending recession due to the pandemic, it will undoubtedly continue to be an issue. Those struggling to live from paycheck to paycheck or those that are currently unemployed will need additional monetary assistance if we are to keep them housed. Then it will be a bit easier to concentrate on getting those already homeless off the streets and into either transitional or permanent housing, as well as those that would benefit from good mental healthcare facilities.

West Hollywood, Los Angeles, LA County and the State of California, along with the help of private non-profits, should work together to fight the growing issue of homelessness and provide quality assistance that is beneficial to those in need by utilizing resources efficiently and effectively.

Larry Block

I’m mad as hell and can’t take it anymore. The homeless are sleeping in the street in front of my shop daily. It’s an ongoing problem that the City Council has failed to manage. We used to have a contract with PATH that had night and weekend outreach. The new contract with Ascencia does not provide night and weekend outreach.

One of my first items as Council member will be review our homeless contract and homeless initiatives. We have a nightlife economy and everyday our outreach goes home and leaves the businesses and public to deal with the problem. If we are going to rebuild our local economy, it has to begin without people laying on the ground sprawled out in front of our local businesses. I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce Homeless Subcommittee, and we try to address these problems working with private and public sector solutions.

On my street of Huntley Drive the homeless have occupied a vacant home and created a homeless house. Complaints to City Hall are useless. Code Compliance and the Sheriff come one day, and the next day the homeless are back. This has been a hardship on our street as many are mentally ill and threaten neighbors and are rummaging through the garbage and creating a nuisance.

We need to create transitional housing as well as other solutions. We can offer a place to shower and offer help these homeless to have some dignity. But many refuse help. We have to be more vigilant and follow Beverly Hills

Jerome Cleary

These aforementioned plans are exactly what I envision the city doing more of. We should be looking at existing opportunities to purchase housing for these disadvantaged communities. Small hotels, residential buildings and condominium units. Even repurposing commercial buildings where possible. There should be many opportunities in this area since we have so many empty storefronts all over the city, and now, with the COVID-19 crisis, it is even worse. There are likely many building owners who would be open to selling or encouraged to adapt their buildings for residential use. It is a faster and more economical solution.

Marco Colantonio

One of the many visible impacts due to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 is the ever-increasing number of homeless community members in West Hollywood. This number will inevitably double and perhaps triple without a program of outreach and engagement.

Creating a municipally funded homeless outreach street team to provide intensive services to chronically homeless people who use public services can help get these individuals off the streets while reducing spending on services such as Sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical care.

The city’s homeless street team of trained case managers and care specialists will locate and engage homeless individuals, many who have lived in the community for years, and are well known to both residents and first responders.

The team would try to see homeless community members on a daily basis to gain their trust and build relationships in order to convince them to accept housing, medical services, mental health care, and treatment for substance abuse.

Tom DeMille

No response.

John Duran

This is a regional issue with almost 70,000 homeless people across all of L.A. County. There is a significant contrast between West Hollywood and neighboring Los Angeles on homelessness. L.A. has tent cities – West Hollywood does not. L.A. has refuse, garbage, and debris scattered all over the sidewalks, greenways, and its alleys. West Hollywood does not. L.A. has large congregations of homeless on the streets – West Hollywood has individuals that many of us recognize as our local transients.

West Hollywood spends more resources than any other small city of our size on homelessness. We offer shelter, food, and beds to those who wish to leave the streets. But we cannot compel anyone to take advantage of the services that we offer. Nobody gets arrested for simply being homeless.

That being said – besides being a compassionate city – we also cannot allow our community to look like a Third World country. Criminality should not be tolerated in our city. And those with substance abuse issues can be treated with compassion and offered addiction recovery and mental health services – but they cannot be allowed to be abusive to our residents or Sheriff deputies.

Some have proposed setting up homeless shelters in our public parks. I do NOT support this. Our parks are for everyone’s use in the community. And people should feel safe and free to use our parks for recreation and relaxation. They should not be accosted by panhandlers or persons exhibiting mental illness or drug psychosis. This is a careful balancing act between being compassionate and protecting our quality of life at the same time.

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JF1
JF1
7 days ago

Heilman is right…”we need help from county and state leaders to change current state laws.” And Duran is also correct…”we cannot allow our community to look like a Third World country.” Having said that, I’m not voting for either of them this election (I have alway consistantly voted for both) I’m voting for Mark Farhad Yusupov for City Council!

Joshua88
Joshua88
7 days ago

No real solutions, but some good ideas. Too many platitudes and blah-blah-blah.

This by Mr Yusupov: Those struggling to live from paycheck to paycheck or those that are currently unemployed will need additional monetary assistance if we are to keep them housed. Then it will be a bit easier to concentrate on getting those already homeless off the street…

is the reason homelessness doesn’t get solved: there is always something *more worthwhile* to do with our money.

Weho Joe
Weho Joe
10 days ago

I see the same homeless woman sitting in front of city hall or Gelsons market almost everyday. As far as identifying the homeless, she would be a good start. If you could help her maybe you could help others one at a time.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
11 days ago

I don’t know why it is so hard to understand that almost all the homeless don’t want homes. They wouldn’t take one if you gave it to them.

JF1
JF1
7 days ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

yup. And we’ve allowed it to become acceptable and so more will choose to do nothing and accept everything that they didn’t earn.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
11 days ago

Well John Erickson has lost my vote FOREVER, and Larry Block has it! Marco looks good, but I’d like him to sound a little more like Larry.

I want WeHo to do what Beverly Hills does; whatever that is!

JF1
JF1
7 days ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

Yes, Beverly Hills seems to be doing a lot better job of running their city. Clean, safe and not drug addicts and mentally ill wondering the streets, parks and bus shelters.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
12 days ago

Big-picture thinkers will see homelessness (like almost all policy challenges facing our city) as regional issues. True thinkers will see that homelessness is not a one-size-fits-all issue. There’s no one cause for homelessness and no one solution. Big-picture thinkers and true thinkers get my votes.

Ian
Ian
12 days ago

Larry Block and Marco Colantonio hit the issue on the nail!!
The continuous altruism for those that are not interested in helping themselves is Far Left stupidity, while wasting OUR money!
95% of the homeless bring massive criminal activity with them. This needs to STOP!
You do not see homelessness on this scale in Beverly Hills, because they do not put up with it!

JF1
JF1
7 days ago
Reply to  Ian

YES!

Gdaddy
Gdaddy
7 days ago
Reply to  Ian

Yes 100% agree. They gotta go. Also West Hollywood needs to stop allowing camper/car sleeping. LA County doesn’t, but WeHo does.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
12 days ago

sleeping on the streets should be illegal. people in that situation must be taken to a local holding area…..where basic services are offered (mental health, basic job training etc).

The model used by Santa Monica and Venice are shameful.

Andrea
Andrea
12 days ago

Thank you John Duran for a very reasonable response. You have my vote.

Raj
Raj
12 days ago
Reply to  Andrea

Oh, please. West Hollywood is a SELECTIVELY compassionate city. Compassion for sex workers, sure. But no compassion for women. Just one example of words being completely removed from actions.

Bax
Bax
10 days ago
Reply to  Andrea

He’s been in office for 20 years. Has the homeless situation not got worse under his leadership?

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