One Man’s Plan to Help LA’s Homeless is Proving Controversial


The mayor of Los Angeles has declared a homelessness crisis. As the city struggles to respond, one man has his own unique solution: building tiny houses for the homeless. But can he evade authorities to get people off the streets? (2017) Youtube

Would forcing homeless people to move inside and off the streets work

Shane Isaacson, a homeless military veteran, with his service dog, Bear, reads late into the night at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles.(Liz Moughon / Los Angeles Times)


Steve Saad, who has camped out in the Sepulveda Basin for eight years, had to find a new place to sleep last week after fire raged through his campsite. I asked if he’d prefer living in a shelter to being homeless, if a bed were available, and he said no. Some of those places have too many rules about coming and going, he said, and some of them separate couples.

In downtown Los Angeles, a man who lives in a tent pitched near the 101 Freeway agreed with that assessment. There was no way he’d move into a shelter, said the man, who identified himself only as Harvey. They’re full of disease, and he feels safer in a tent, he said.

For the record:

12:54 PM, Aug. 03, 2019 An earlier version of this column incorrectly referred to Kris Freed of Los Angeles Family Housing as Kim Freed.

At Echo Park Lake, military veteran Shane Isaacson said it was an interesting idea, but he would rather continue living in his Jeep with his dog, Bear, than move into a shelter.

Isaacson says he prefers living in his Jeep over moving into a shelter.(Liz Moughon / Los Angeles Times)

Only one homeless person I talked to in my informal survey, David Parcher, who also lives in the park, saw it differently. Yes, he said, he’d take the shelter bed, even though he understood why so many other homeless people might not.

“Some of us don’t always do what’s in our own best interest,” Parcher said.

I was asking the question because new ideas are not abundant in the world of homelessness policy, but two California politicians have come up with something that’s a little different and a lot controversial.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, both involved in homeless issues for years, have proposed a new approach, in which the state would establish a right to shelter and make sure there’s a bed for every homeless person now camped on streets, riverbeds and parks.

This is a change in direction because for several years, the focus has been on building permanent supportive housing rather than temporary shelter. But the more radical part of the proposal is this:

Once beds were available, homeless people would be forced to move inside.

“The public policy of this state must be that people live indoors,” said Steinberg, who noted that the number of deaths among the homeless is rising — more than 900 last year in Los Angeles County alone. If we can get more people inside, he said, it would be much easier to help people get well and find long-term solutions to their problems.

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A homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake.(The idea)