Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: City helps homeless woman get back on her feet

“For over a year, all we had was each other,” said Blanca Ahumada. “Every single day that I was on the streets and bouncing from motel to motel, I thought how are we going to do this — how are we going to feed the kids?”

Since losing her job in retail, Ahumada hasn’t been able to find work for herself, and her husband gets only inconsistent work as a day laborer. They struggle to make ends meet.

When their landlord raised the rent, they lost everything. Ahumada and her family began to live at various motels, and the moves took a toll on their children. “Things like homework, after-school activities take a back seat when your stomach is rumbling or you are constantly on the move.”

Eventually, Ahumada started receiving support from L.A. Family Housing for basic needs and supportive services like housing navigation, access to School on Wheels, connections to benefits, and bridge housing. They received a Section 8 voucher and found housing — and that, Ahumada says, “changed everything.”

The Ahumadas’ story is a familiar one, with 8 million American households spending more than half their income on rent or living in inadequate housing. And according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only one in four U.S. households eligible for assistance actually receive it. In Los Angeles, that number falls to one in eight.

There’s a side of this crisis that too often goes undetected and undiscussed, and that’s childhood poverty. For decades, our schools have been overlooked in this fight, so I brought together the Los Angeles Unified School District, our city’s Housing Authority, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and L.A. Family Housing to pilot a special program that can get more families on their way to a permanent place to live.

We started with the area around Telfair Elementary School in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where about a quarter of the students are homeless or facing housing instability, and set aside 50 housing vouchers for vulnerable families with children who need the most help. We’ve gotten all of those vouchers into the hands of people who need them.

Building on this work, last month I announced a 10-fold expansion of this program — for a total of 500 vouchers — to take it to other areas of Los Angeles where too many families with students are experiencing housing insecurity. This announcement comes alongside our other bold steps to address the housing and homelessness crisis through programs like A Bridge Home.

To date, nine bridge shelters are open across the city offering more than 500 beds, and we remain on track to stand up a total of 26 shelters, filled with about 2,000 beds, by July 1.

For six years I’ve scraped together every last penny I could find to confront this crisis, and today the homelessness budget is 25 times what it was four years ago. But there is only so much we can do on our own.

With the 2020 election fast approaching, we’ve heard a lot of talk about homelessness from the White House as well as the Democratic field. But we need more than talking points — we need meaningful action that will provide the housing, healing and hope our unhoused neighbors urgently need. An important first step would be to double the number of Section 8 vouchers nationwide and the program should be funded to match rising rents in cities like L.A.

The next president should make delivering this relief a priority — the same kind of help we provide through food stamps for those facing hunger, or Medicaid to ensure health coverage. 

Americans like Blanca Ahumada are counting on it. Why? Because in Ahumada’s words, “When I think about the future, I just want the best for my family. To me, the best means coming home to a warm bed and a safe place where we can just be. A place where my kids don’t have to worry about where they’re going to sleep, what they’ll eat, or even where they’re going to shower.”

That’s the difference a Section 8 voucher can make — a warm bed, a space to cook, and a place to shower. Expanding this program can help to make real the promise of a better, brighter future for Ahumada’s family and so many others. Let’s come together and make sure that happens.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs monthly in The Wave.