Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Building a sturdy ‘bridge’ for Angelenos in need

By Mayor Eric Garcetti

Contributing Columnist

We opened the first “A Bridge Home” temporary emergency housing facility near El Pueblo Historical Monument this week — and as we toured the space and prepared to welcome the first residents, I was thinking of Angelenos like Ericka Newsome.

Today, Newsome is an advocate at the Downtown Women’s Center; but just a few short years ago, while working in the banking industry, she lost her apartment after a dramatic increase in the rent. Struggling to find a place she could afford, Newsome began sleeping in her car — but when word got around that she was homeless and spending nights in the employee parking structure, her employer let her go.

When Angelenos are suffering in extreme poverty on the streets, Newsome says the most common misconception is that these are “people who just don’t care: drug addicts, lazy, always causing trouble, not being a part of the community — which in my case is the total opposite. … If ‘A Bridge Home’ had existed at the time, I would have had an immediate place to get resources right away.”

Filling that gap — urgent assistance for homeless Angelenos and accelerated cleanups for frustrated communities — is why I created A Bridge Home, and want these facilities opened in every City Council district. It needs to be done as quickly as possible, so I signed an executive directive to fast-track approval and construction of temporary emergency housing — which will stay in place for about three years.

The sites are designed to offer immediate beds, showers, restrooms, storage facilities and around-the-clock, on-site care for Angelenos who are sleeping on the street now and awaiting construction of permanent housing, approved by voters, that will include on-site services for people in desperate need.

A Bridge Home is different from existing shelter models in that we have worked to carefully remove obstacles that have typically kept people from jumping at the chance to sleep in an open bed: residents are welcome to stay 24/7, pets are welcome and people are not separated from their partners. Once a resident is connected to a permanent place to live, their bed is turned over to someone else in need.

The residents for each A Bridge Home facility will come from high-density homeless encampments in the immediate area, where outreach teams are spending months identifying Angelenos without shelter, engaging people on a personal level, and preparing them for the move indoors. Once they are stabilized and off the streets, we will send in extra sanitation teams to restore spaces that were previously encampment sites into safe, clean, public passageways.

I spent a recent afternoon at the Downtown Women’s Center to hear feedback on A Bridge Home, and was struck by the remarkable people who work and are served there. L.A. is stepping up to accelerate good work that is already happening all over the city — and Newsome sees the new energy behind ending homelessness as absolutely essential to “making a change in what’s going on.”

“Trying to survive is scary,” Newsome told us, and when she was forced onto the streets, “I couldn’t find any resources. … I felt pushed aside. I was kind of stuck — I didn’t know where to turn. I was just about to give up. When I was in a bind, there was no one there to help get me started putting myself together again, so I could get back to the community again.”

Had our program been available to her when she fell into homelessness, Ericka believes “things would have started [turning around] for me earlier. And I probably would have been in a position where I was safe. I probably would not have had to spend time on the streets. We have been improving, but [A Bridge Home] is next-level. They’re doing everything they can to make it better for people who are still homeless and trying to get back to their lives in a positive way.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.