Alternatives to Tent Cities in this Emergency Situation

The news has been scary lately with so many people in trouble due to our economy. At ground zero here on Skid Row in Los Angeles the reality is even more incredible. Real unemployment in Los Angeles is at nearly 21% according to Jack Kaiser of the Los Angeles Economic Corporation. It is no wonder then that families coming to Union Rescue Mission are up over 340% since last year, and our meals are up 32% from 18 months ago.

47% of the families needing shelter throughout the city are homeless for the first time ever in their lives.

And it’s not just Los Angeles, it’s everywhere. I was contacted by a friend of Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, a former NBA great, asking me what could be done about the tent cities springing up in Sacramento and around our country. Sacramento’s tent city has grown to 1200 people and there is talk of demolishing it. But that will not solve the problem.

I have come up with a plan, and though I can’t say that it originated with me, I believe that it is a tremendous alternative to letting folks sleep on the streets or in tents. First of all, the Governor should declare a state of emergency and ask that all armories be opened to house people as we do in the Winter Shelter months. Non-profits like Union Rescue Mission and our EIMAGO public benefits charity should be commissioned to operate them. We could provide emergency housing for 200 people each night, along with meals, a cot, a shower, and bathroom facilities for $1.2 million per armory a year.

Secondly, I received this note from a friend concerning a dream of hers. She told me, “One morning I awoke about 5:30 am to the words, ‘Hotels will be given to house the homeless, restaurants will be given to feed the hungry.’” I considered her dream—the empty hotels/motels in our area that are struggling to do business, and the nearly abandoned restaurants on the brink of closing. Then I thought of the tsunami of families coming our way seeking assistance and experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives. What if we exchanged hotel/motel vouchers and restaurant vouchers for a small fee? Whatever a family could afford to pay, we put roofs over the heads of children and good food in their bellies while at the same time assisting the hotel and restaurant businesses in keeping their doors open and their employees working. We could provide case management to assist the families in pursuing permanent housing and employment. For those without a partnering family to turn to as they struggle through this ordeal, we could connect them with a church family to encourage them along the way. Some churches could possibly even step up and provide a gym for housing or an empty apartment that they could sponsor. Could we as a city, state, and country find it in our hearts to join in a bit of a bail out program for desperate families—along with some accountability and dignity to boot?

I want to encourage all in authority that this is an increasing emergency situation and needs an emergency response. We should not allow anyone, especially children to experience the devastating effects of homelessness.

Blessings, Andy B

Take a moment to watch this report from NBC Nightly News about Sacramento’s tent cities.