Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Efforts to ease the homeless crisis starting to show

For three years, Jonathan and Leticia Catzin-Ayala and their five children were without a home.

Jonathan, who has serious back problems as a result of an injury he sustained in the Northridge earthquake, struggled to find work. Through it all, he and Leticia kept their children — who range in age from a toddler to 11-years-old — safe, clean and in school.

They couch surfed, stayed in shelters and hotels, and slept in their car. They would stay near a hospital so they had access to a restroom and visit parks to use the shower. Leticia remembers how hard it was when the kids told her they wanted to go home.

On Dec. 30, that’s what they did when they moved into 88th and Vermont — the first Proposition HHH-funded project to open. This project, developed by WORKS and Community Build with Housing Works as the service provider, created 46 permanent supportive housing units for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system, veterans and families with special needs who have been experiencing chronic homelessness. Additionally, there are 14 units for extremely low-income families and individuals, as well as a center with educational and job resources and support.

Meeting the Catzin-Ayala family at the opening of 88th and Vermont filled me with hope, because we can see the difference our work is making. Across Los Angeles, taking the place of unused parking lots and derelict buildings are projects like 88th and Vermont — places that are the tip of the spear in our work to bring unhoused Angelenos indoors, and at the same time add more affordable housing to our neighborhoods.

All told, there are 28 supportive housing projects under construction, and another 30 permanent supportive housing projects expected to break ground this year. Taken together, that’s more than 1,300 units of affordable and supportive housing set to come online by the end of 2020 — and almost 1,900 affordable and supportive housing units starting construction this year.

These milestones are possible because voters approved Proposition HHH to generate $1.2 billion to help build and open 10,000 units of supportive housing in 10 years, marking a massive jump from the 3,000 planned for that time period.

We’re not waiting for those projects to be finished to get folks indoors. That’s why we’re opening up A Bridge Home shelters across the city so we can get folks indoors now while HHH projects move to completion. So far, we have nine A Bridge Home shelters open, bringing our total bed count to 519, and by this summer there will be more than 2,000 new beds at 26 shelters — and we are set to increase that number to 29 sites soon. 

And we’re seeing the results. In 2014, we were housing about 9,000 homeless Angelenos a year. Four years later, we housed more than 21,600 people — that’s in 2018 alone.

Yet even with that progress, our work is far from done. I brought that message to Washington, D.C., last month when I met with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and we will work with anyone to bring new resources to Los Angeles to house more of our homeless neighbors.

The Catzin-Ayala family are a reminder of what we can achieve when we come together to confront this crisis. Jonathan says it has been “surreal” to have a place to call their own — a place with a fridge, a kitchen table, and a shower.

He’s not sure if the kids fully understand that they’re not sleeping in the car anymore.

“Soon that’s going to change,” he said. “They’re going to know what home is — and that means more than anything.”

He’s right. We want everyone in this city to know what home is, and we’re not going to slow down until we get there.

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