Tuesday, July 28, 2020

L.A. County Removes Homeless From Freeway Underpasses

Some of these folks lived under freeways for years. Mind-boggling.

At LAT, "They made a home under L.A.’s freeways. But soon they could be forced to move":

The 105 Freeway roared overhead as homeless outreach worker Daniel Ornelas knelt to speak with Genia Hope.

Hope’s home has been, for years, a sprawling complex of tents beside a tangle of freeways in southeast Los Angeles County. Like many homeless people, she has chosen to live under or near a freeway because it affords some measure of safety compared with other spots where homeless people bed down.

A rusted elephant trinket stood guard outside her tarps and tent, and inside she lounged on a black leather couch, smoking a cigarette alongside a rack of clothing.

Hope raised her now-grown children in Apple Valley and later followed a man to Bellflower. She lost her job at a rehab facility and then, after her partner died, grief, anxiety and struggles with addiction led her to the street.

Now, it looked as if Ornelas might just be able to help her. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up a wealth of resources to help get people off the streets, and a recent order from a federal judge will unlock even more. But efforts to aid people like Hope are going to be complicated by a shortage of available shelter and fighting among government entities about how best to carry out the judge’s wishes.

Hope told Ornelas that living beside this freeway underpass, just off a bike bath that snakes along the Los Angeles River, was optimal. Police rarely hassled her here, and she had plenty of space to be alone. An on-again, off-again love interest lived nearby, and her homeless neighbors formed a supportive community.

One neighbor brought her some lunch and a strawberry slushie as she spoke with the outreach worker.

She jumped at the offer, excited at the prospect of getting to take a bath and sleep in a bed. Her matted blond hair needed washing, she said. It would be ideal if her boyfriend could join her — at arm’s length.

“If we could be at the same hotel and in separate rooms, that would be great,” she said. “Sometimes we just need a break from each other.”

A government program known as Project Roomkey, which aims to rent motel and hotel rooms for homeless people, has fallen short of its goals locally but still has vastly expanded the number of rooms available to homeless people vulnerable to COVID-19. As a result, Ornelas was able to quickly whisk Hope off the street. Like many outreach workers who serve the county’s swelling homeless population, he pays special attention to the underpasses and embankments near freeways.

Those areas became a subject of great interest and conflict after U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered city and county officials to provide space in shelters or alternative housing for residents living near freeway overpasses, underpasses and ramps. Once there is enough shelter, the agreement could pave the way for law enforcement to enforce anti-camping ordinances.

The order came during proceedings for a lawsuit Carter has been presiding over since March, when the advocacy group L.A. Alliance for Human Rights sued public agencies across the county, accusing them of allowing unsafe and inhumane conditions in homeless camps. Carter’s focus on the areas around freeways took many homeless advocates and government officials by surprise.

Many who could be forced to move said they were leery of going into temporary shelters, tiny prefab houses or sanctioned camping sites, because they felt confined by rules that prevented them from leaving after certain hours and put them in shared spaces that they would otherwise avoid.

And those coordinating where people living near freeways go next — the homeless service providers and outreach workers— say that the order will lead to needless confrontation between law enforcement and people living on the streets. They also say politicians’ attempts to comply with the judge’s desires focus far too much on interim housing options and will come at the expense of more permanent solutions...
More, and don't miss the great photos.