Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee held the first of two hearings Wednesday on a city plan to end homelessness, and also voted to spend $2.1 million on winter shelters and other assistance for the homeless during the anticipated El Nino-related storms.

The funds, which still need the approval of the full City Council and the mayor, had already been budgeted, but further action is needed to release the money so that it could be used.

The money will go toward “expanded winter shelter capacity, creating more beds, or opening other shelters in different places 24/7,” said Councilman Mike Bonin, a member of the committee.

The money could also be used to remove “barriers” that keep some people from staying at shelters, and could fund storage space, as well as kennels to allow people to keep their pets with them, Bonin said.

City and county homeless services officials have reported low use of “surge” shelters opened during last week’s winter storms. The seven shelters added to the existing winter shelters saw as little as 5 percent usage and some had no beds used, according to officials.

The panel spent much of today’s two-hour meeting reviewing input on a much-anticipated city report that suggested ways the city can help provide permanent housing to the homeless. An estimated 44,000 people are homeless in the Los Angeles area, with about 25,000 within the city.

The report was released the same day as a county report that examined the same issue, and has been touted as the beginning of a more comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness.

Members of the public who spoke at the meeting said the report gave short shrift to certain segments of the homeless population, such as homeless women who are escaping domestic violence. Others said the report failed to address how the city would decriminalize homelessness.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who chairs the panel, said speakers “made a good call” in saying that the report did not adequately explore strategies for homeless individuals affected by domestic violence.

To remedy the matter, Harris-Dawson said he directed staff today to look into programs for homeless domestic violence victims that were closed due to changes in federal policies and to suggest ways to address that gap in resources.

Bonin noted that a couple hundred beds for domestic violence victims could have been lost recently due to funding changes.

Other issues brought up for further study included transitional housing programs potentially losing funding if the focus is shifted to permanent supportive housing programs.

Council members also said they wanted more study of how to help homeless mothers who have children with them, and people who have just come out of incarceration and may not be able to find a place to stay.

–City News Service

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