L.A. to study using downtown Convention Center as temporary homeless shelter

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With cold and wet weather looming on the horizon, several Los Angeles City Council members have asked the city to evaluate the feasibility of using the downtown Convention Center into a temporary homeless shelter.

Councilmen Curren Price, Kevin de León and Gilbert Cedillo, who introduced the motion, said the pandemic has exacerbated the conditions on the streets and that the city needs to find ways to protect the region’s growing homeless populations when cold temperatures and more rain arrives.

“In the midst of the pandemic, we must take bold, dramatic action and do everything possible to ensure the safety of our communities,” said Price, whose district houses the convention center. “At this moment in time, we are being hard-pressed to think outside the box, come up with a variety of solutions and look for ways to use existing resources that are underutilized at a fraction of the cost.”

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter had previously challenged each City Council member to find solutions to shelter homeless people in their districts, the Los Angeles Times reported. This comes after the LA Alliance for Human Rights filed a lawsuit in March, which accused the city and county of failing to comprehensively address the homelessness crisis.

More than 41,000 people in Los Angeles currently live on the street, in a shelter or in a vehicle, an increase of 16.1% over last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Of those, 28,852 individuals are unsheltered, officials said.

Newly elected Councilman de León, who seconded Price’s motion, said the idea of using the convention center for emergency purposes is not new.

“We opened up our Convention Center to house those suffering from COVID-19, and we can surely do the same for those suffering from chronic homelessness and the rapidly-approaching tsunami of evictions,” de León said.

In April, with the onset of COVID-19, a portion of the Los Angeles Convention Center was transformed into a temporary medical facility to handle the overflow of recovering COVID-19 patients from local hospitals. 

The building was outfitted with 250 beds and had the ability to expand operations if necessary, making the convention center a spacious venue to potentially shelter the city’s vulnerable population, the councilmen said. 

“Unhoused Angelenos are now facing the long winter months with virtually no access to a warm place to sleep at night,” de León added. “Responding to this humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions requires us to be nimble and creative, doing everything in our power to move people off the street and indoors.”

The motion calls for the various city factions to study the proposal, including “the number of beds that could be reasonably incorporated into the building, and the potential services, funding requirements, and revenue impacts of such a project,” according to the motion filed. The different agencies will have 30 days to come up with recommendations.

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