LA Offers Motel Rooms – If You Give Up Your Tent

homeless tent in LA

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Giving Up Your Only Shelter and Relying Fully on the City Is a Hard Sell for Many Who’ve Been Burned Before

A new housing program in Los Angeles is moving quickly to get people off the streets and into motel rooms – under certain conditions. In order to be eligible for a motel room, you can only take a few bags’ worth of possessions with you, and you have to let the city destroy your tent.

Keep in mind that what the city views as unsightly trash is usually an unhoused person’s lifeline. Their tent and whatever other possessions they’ve managed to hold onto are vital survival gear keeping them as sheltered, safe, and sane as they can be. Asking them to give that up is asking them to fully rely on a system that has already failed them at least once. It’s a vulnerable position for a population that has no good reason to be so trusting- and every reason not to.

Mayor Karen Bass Is Wasting No Time

This new initiative is the project of LA’s new mayor, Karen Bass.

After being sworn into office in December, she moved quickly to make good on her campaign promise to get 17,000 unhoused Angelenos off the streets by the end of her first year in office. Specifically, she has pledged to “urgently move people inside and to do so for good.”

To accomplish this, she declared a local state of emergency regarding homelessness during her first week in office. Then she launched the Inside Safe Initiative, which has several promising points in its action plan, including:

  • Create a strategy of large-scale, citywide coordination 
  • Identify criteria and strategies for determining the highest-need encampments across the city, primarily focusing on encampments that are chronic and have a high demand for services
  • Identify interim housing for each person in encampments 
  • Identify permanent housing resources for each person in encampments 
  • Assure that the Inside Safe Action Plan integrates equity principles in its design and implementation
  • Consult with people who have lived experience of homelessness on the development and implementation of all relevant strategies

Mayor Bass has stressed that even though she’s moving quickly to address this problem, the initiative is not about quick fixes. It’s about getting people off the streets right now and maintaining them safely inside until permanent housing is made available for them.

Perhaps that’s why she didn’t see requiring tent destruction as a problem.

She firmly believes that if all goes to plan, no one taken in by her initiative will ever need their tents for shelter again. But for some who could benefit from the program, surrendering their lifeline and trusting that they’ll be provided for is an insurmountable barrier.

To the mayor, getting rid of the tents is a matter of course to ensure that encampments get cleaned up as the people who lived there transition inside. But to the unhoused people on the other end of the deal, it’s a giant leap of faith. 

Hopefully, Changes Can Be Made

The Inside Safe initiative specifically includes a provision for listening to people with lived experiences of homelessness and incorporating their feedback at all stages of the process. For this reason, we are hopeful that changes can be made to make this program more accessible to everyone who could benefit from it.

In an interview with CNN’s Nick Watt, Mayor Bass seems open to changing the tent-destruction policy. Though she explains that “the point is, they’re not gonna need a tent,” she expresses understanding of unhoused people being hesitant to give up their safety net and ends with, “we’ll have to examine that.”

A Bright Future on the Way to LA?

Overall, this program could be just the swift and decisive action we have been begging for to address homelessness. Mayor Bass is plainly committed to getting people sheltered and eventually housed. She’s sworn off tired techniques of trying to make unhoused people some other city’s problem that we’ve seen play out too many times already.

If her plan works the way she envisions it, it will be revolutionary not just for the city of Los Angeles but for cities across the United States and elsewhere.

We hope it does work, especially because the program has already cleared out six encampments across Los Angeles and put more than 200 people up in motel and hotel rooms. But while these vulnerable people now have a (temporary) roof over their heads, the Mayor’s program does not provide them with food or hygiene products. Additionally, homeless people who have vehicles have been turned away because they cannot afford the $10 daily fee to park their cars.

If it doesn’t work, those 200+ people will be back on the street starting from scratch – this time without a tent.

We’ve Been Here Before

At this point in the initiative, all we have is temporary housing and the intention to build permanent housing at some point in the future.

We’ve been here before. Though it’s only been a few months since Mayor Bass took office, the pathway to permanent housing on her initiative is unclear. What we do know is individuals are not being offered support services at this point – just (temporary) housing. Meanwhile, unprecedented storms are hitting the area leaving unhoused people in more precarious situations.

Only time will tell whether this new initiative will fare better than the old ones. Other mayors before her have come this far only to fumble the follow-through. The key will be in Mayor Bass’s ability to get permanent housing and supportive services up and running despite all the red tape and politicking that stands in the way.

Kayla Robbins

Kayla Robbins


Kayla Robbins is a freelance writer who works with big-hearted brands and businesses. When she's not working, she enjoys knitting socks, rolling d20s, and binging episodes of The Great British Bake Off.

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