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Who’s Steering the Ship for “Inside Safe?”

A lack of communication and coordination left Inside Safe participants in the lurch at Hotel Silver Lake.

large motel on roadside
Hotel Silver Lake (Source)

Less than four weeks ago, 42 unhoused people at an encampment on 6th Street and Fairfax Avenue were moved into the Hotel Silver Lake as part of Mayor Karen Bass’ new Inside Safe initiative. Since the program was launched in December, over 500 people from 13 encampments have been brought into shelter.

Knock LA reported on the 6th and Fairfax operation with cautious optimism, wondering whether Inside Safe would be a true step in a new direction for LA’s homelessness policy, or more of the status quo of displacement, confusion, and broken trust.

On Monday and Tuesday, Hotel Silver Lake residents were abruptly moved across town to different hotels. Immediately afterwards, their rooms were filled by a new group of Inside Safe participants from the Echo Park area in Council District 13. CD 13 is under the jurisdiction of Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez.

The mayor’s office says that “Hotel Silver Lake wasn’t intended to be a long-term housing option for Inside Safe participants on 6th and Fairfax,” which is news to the participants. Several say they were told they could stay at the hotel for months or up to a year while waiting on permanent housing.

“My driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate, all of that was stolen, so I’ve been working since I got here to get that back,” said Shayne, an Inside Safe participant from the 6th and Fairfax encampment. “I had it all sent here. This was my address. I felt like things were getting better … and now I can’t do what I need to do for my life because they want to move me again.”

A former interior architect who once ran her own business, Shayne lost all her clients seven years ago after a serious accident left her unable to speak or write. She was evicted from her apartment and left to fend for herself in the slow-moving housing services system.

When she signed up for Inside Safe, Shayne was under the impression that she would be staying at Hotel Silver Lake indefinitely while her caseworker helped her find permanent housing. Although the hotel is within CD 13, Inside Safe participants from CD 5 were moved there due to a lack of cost-effective rooms within their own district. 

After years of instability, having her own room with a lock on the door was a game-changer for Shayne.

“I’m relieved, I’m happy, I feel safe,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about someone beating me up or sexually molesting me in my sleep.”

However, on Friday morning, a supervisor from nonprofit service provider The People Concern allegedly told Shayne that she and her neighbors would soon have to move. According to Shayne, the supervisor said that Councilmember Soto-Martínez’s office and the mayor’s office had decided to use Hotel Silver Lake for an Inside Safe initiative in CD 13. 

Representatives from the CD 13 office and the mayor’s office both dispute this, saying that Soto-Martínez and his staff weren’t part of the decision to remove people from the hotel. The People Concern did not respond to a request for comment. 

The CD 5 office, which oversaw the Inside Safe initiative at 6th and Fairfax, says they aren’t aware of why the Hotel Silver Lake residents were moved, or of “any concrete timeline that was given to residents” on how long they would be able to stay at the hotel.

On Wednesday, Mercedes Marquez, chief of housing and homelessness solutions for the mayor’s office, appeared to shift the blame to The People Concern, attributing the move to “capacity issues with service providers” that led to “challenges operating the site.”

Regardless of who was responsible, the sudden, poorly communicated shift broke the trust of program participants who were just beginning to call Hotel Silver Lake home.

“I Feel Like I’m in Jail”

On Monday, buses arrived to take Shayne and her fellow Inside Safe participants to the Grand Hotel downtown. Many participants refused to go, already familiar with the Grand’s prisonlike conditions.

“They’re telling us we have to be patted down and our bag searched every time we enter the hotel,” Shayne said. “We can’t have room keys and have freedom to go in our room on our own, [the security guards] have to allow us into our room. We’re not allowed to visit other rooms or friends, we’re not allowed to go into the lobby except to leave … I feel like I’m in jail.”

Brandon, who was moved to the Grand Hotel with no warning on Monday morning, said it felt “like a detention camp.” After the humiliating process of going through a medical and psychological evaluation and having his belongings searched in front of other participants, security guards escorted him to his room.

On Tuesday morning, Soto-Martínez made a brief appearance at the hotel while a busload of new Inside Safe participants from Echo Park arrived to fill the now-vacant rooms. Meanwhile, CD 5 staff hustled to connect the participants from 6th and Fairfax with new rooms at the Grand Hotel or the Hollywood West Inn. 

“There’s these buses pulled up with people from other encampments who have basically bumped us out of our place, and now I have to live in a place that’s basically the same as being incarcerated,” Brandon said. “It’s not about the roof and the four walls, it’s more about peace of mind, and I don’t have that anymore.”

hugo soto-martinez waving to camera outside hotel
Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez outside the Hotel Silver Lake during an Inside Safe operation on March 14

The Inside Safe operation in Echo Park was also bumpy. On Monday, encampment residents on Alvarado Street told Knock LA that they were recently informed they would be moving soon, but didn’t know exactly when or to where. Community organizers working with the encampment were also left in the dark.

Sonja Verdugo, a Ground Game LA organizer who does outreach for CD 13 in Echo Park, said that she had no idea about the housing operation before it happened on Tuesday. (Disclosure: Knock LA is a project of Ground Game LA.)

“They should have given [organizers] a heads up so they can make that transition go much smoother, at least being able to talk to them and let them know what was happening, because people want information,” Verdugo said.

Some residents from Echo Park had their belongings lost or thrown away during the move. Although they’re happy to be inside, several individuals have expressed frustration at how they and their property were treated.

Ultimately, CD 5 staff was able to obtain approximately a dozen rooms at the Hotel Silver Lake for 6th and Fairfax participants who wanted to stay, including Shayne. Around 20 more were moved to the Grand Hotel, several of whom have already left, according to mutual aid volunteers. A few more people were taken to the Hollywood West Inn, and at least 10 others are currently unaccounted for.

Brandon left the Grand Hotel on Tuesday morning because of the conditions there, but by the time he returned to the Hotel Silver Lake, he found out that his room had already been given away. He spent a night sleeping in another resident’s hotel room before moving into the Hollywood West Inn on Wednesday.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum, CEO of LAHSA, said the move from the Hotel Silver Lake was “voluntary” and that the Inside Safe team would “get better at communication” as the staff grows. Marquez added that “there was communication with the city council districts” throughout the process, but didn’t elaborate further.

“For them to say that it was voluntary — I mean, did they actually talk to anybody that’s unhoused or being moved around?” Verdugo rebutted. “I think that [Bass] needs to be more in touch with what’s going on … The only way they’re going to know what’s going on is if they actually speak to people.”

Update: A previous version of this article stated that the 6th and Fairfax participants were moved out of the Hotel Silver Lake to make room for the CD 13 operation. After publication, a representative from the mayor’s office told Knock LA that “the Fairfax folks were not moved because of the CD 13 operation,” and “the move was to help improve the living conditions of the residents of 6th and Fairfax.”