Despite controversies, Mayor Bass’ homeless initiative receives support from experts and non-profits

Inside Safe Program aims to secure housing through hotels for unhoused individuals in Los Angeles.

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Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass presented the 2023-2024 budget on April 18, which includes an unprecedented investment of $1.3 billion to tackle homelessness. The historic initiative comes in light of the expiration of the state and federal pandemic emergency funds, which were used to fund homeless shelter programs for the past three years.

In L.A. City Hall, Bass and her team put an emphasis on bringing unhoused Angelenos off the streets and into safe housing with the eventual goal of transitioning into permanent residences.

“My top priority from day one to day 100 of my administration has been confronting the homelessness crisis with the urgency it requires, and that won’t stop,” Bass said in a statement. “Together, we will work to make Los Angeles safer and more livable in every neighborhood.”

The biggest chunk of the budget, $250 million, has been set aside for the Inside Safe Program, which aims to reduce homelessness by purchasing motels to serve as interim housing and hiring new staff members to run the program. Of those, $47 million will be used to acquire motels and hotels to reduce future program costs.

Jason Ward, who serves as an economist and associate director of the Research and Development (RAND) Center on Housing and Homelessness, views the Inside Safe program as a step in the right direction.

“I think any worthwhile effort to get people off the streets is important, particularly given the scope of the problem here in L.A.,” Ward said. “There’s a report from L.A. County that came out concerning the period from May 2021 to 2022 that suggested that an average of around five unsheltered people a day were dying in the county, so that’s a pretty dire situation.”

Kristen Aster, who works as the director of public policy and advocacy for the People Concern, a social service agency aimed at alleviating homelessness and poverty, says she appreciates the program for its coordination between the city and the county of L.A.

“This isn’t just the city’s initiative,” Aster said. “It’s really done in partnership with a lot of important stakeholders, and that collaboration is so important to really solve homelessness.”

Aster specifically mentioned the resources that initiatives like Inside Safe provide, calling it an “effective intervention.”

“Our outreach teams work really hard to build trust with our unhoused neighbors, but we often don’t have the resources,” she said. “So having that housing resources right then and there that we know people will be able to go into is really important.”

Despite the resources Inside Safe provides, Ward admits the solution to eradicating homelessness is more multi-faceted, requiring long-term development within the city.

“But I don’t think, you know, Inside Safe or really any combination of the kind of programs we have are going to solve homelessness,” Ward said. “That’s really more a matter of dramatically increasing the stock of housing that we build in the city over a long period of time to reduce the cost of housing in a meaningful and sustained way.”

Andy Bales, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles, has expressed his support for Inside Safe.

“Leaving somebody outside is the worst thing that you could do for them,” Bales said. “And unfortunately, Los Angeles has a history of leaving more than 70% of the (unhoused) people out on the streets while helping a few.”

Bass’s program has been met with controversy from advocates who believe that moving individuals into hotels away from their familiar environment may be harmful. However, Ward believes these criticisms “don’t seem particularly constructive,” considering that most homeless individuals lack other options that are safe or viable.

Bales agrees with Ward’s response to criticisms, stating that the program does more good than harm.

“There’s always some complaints and some mishaps when human beings are involved,” Bales added. “But I think overall there’s a huge percentage of people getting help right now in Inside Safe and there’s a large percentage staying.”

According to Aster, solutions like Inside Safe need to be more holistic and accompanied by social services tailored to the needs of the individual. Part of that initiative involves building trust with the community.

“I think it’s all about having solutions that bring people indoors with dignity, that will help make people feel safe and secure where they’re in housing and address their individualized needs, and that they have trust with the provider that’s helping bring that that offer of housing and that it’s going to be something that’s going to work for their individual circumstance,” Aster said.