Columnists Mayor Eric Garcetti Opinion

COMMUNITY REPORT: Getting people off the streets one person at a time

“Lost. Hopeless. And homeless.” That’s how Je’Bre Byers described her life living on the streets, when I met her at a recent luncheon for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps.

Before she reached her teenage years, she lost her parents. She ended up living with both her grandmother and godmother. But facing financial difficulties and unable to afford food and clothing, Byers wound up on the streets. At 18, she became homeless. For five years, she walked the streets of Los Angeles, trying to find a safe place to rest.

Miracles come in different forms. For some it’s an outstretched hand; for others it’s a life-saving cure.

Byers’ miracle was a flyer for the Conservation Corps, promising work, new skills and a community. So she signed up.

Through the LACC, she fell in love with carpentry and today is a member of their Youth Build program — working with Habitat for Humanity to construct homes for homeless Angelenos. And she’s no longer living on the streets as her corps case manager helped her find a home.

From being homeless to building homes for Angelenos in need. When I say our city is coming together to confront the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our time, I’m thinking of stories like Je’Bre Byers’.

No one can do everything to solve homelessness, but everyone can do something. From opening up a closed church parking lot at night to provide a safe rest stop for families living in their cars, to talking with a neighbor about why we pay the price for NIMBY-ism (Not in My Back Yard), out of our wallets and in our communities, there’s an action all of us can take — and many of us are doing just that.

During my State of the City Address last month, I announced a new plan to get unsheltered Angelenos under a roof as quickly as possible. It’s called A Bridge Home and addresses the desperate need of folks sleeping on the streets tonight while the city builds their permanent homes for tomorrow with the funds from Proposition HHH.

First, I’m asking the City Council to look at existing encampments, find locations for nearby shelters, and start on construction. This used to be a process that could take months — or much longer. But now, thanks to my emergency shelter crisis declaration, we can quickly construct homeless shelters on any land owned or leased by the city. My budget includes $20 million to construct emergency shelters citywide, so when council members step forward with a location, we’ll be ready.

Second, the county will deploy intensive outreach teams to work with homeless Angelenos. Thanks to the voters who passed Measure H, we are hiring 1,000 social workers, housing navigators and addiction specialists who will hit the streets every day, learning the names and stories of our homeless neighbors and helping them make the transition indoors.

And third, once council districts stand up shelters and homeless Angelenos move in, the Bureau of Sanitation will restore spaces where encampments once stood. We’re not going to wash down sidewalks only to see an encampment return a few days later. That doesn’t help a single person get off the street, and it doesn’t help clean up a neighborhood. That’s why the new sanitation teams in my budget will only be deployed when communities take action.

And communities are already stepping up. Council President Herb Wesson has identified a site in his district where the city will build new temporary crisis housing. That’s the kind of leadership that will bring this crisis to an end.

If you ask Je’Bre Byers what her dream is, she’ll tell you it’s to one day build her own house. And when she completes the carpentry apprenticeship she is working so hard to secure, I hope she’ll be right there with us as we build the home for the last unhoused Angeleno. That’s the future we’re working toward.

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