Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

Is ‘Inside Safe’ Finally Changing LA’s Approach to Housing?

Under former Councilmember Koretz, unhoused residents of Council District 5 were shuffled around by a slew of anti-encampment zones. They tell us they want permanent housing.

A man in a green shirt stands on one side of the street showing his middle finger to sanitation workers on the other side who are destroying his belongings.
A former resident of the Burton Way encampment flipping off sanitation workers at a sweep.

In late 2021, approximately two dozen people were displaced from an encampment on a traffic median in Beverly Grove. More than a year later, only a few of the former encampment’s residents are currently in housing. The rest are still on the streets — most of them just a few blocks away from their original location.

In the face of Mayor Karen Bass’ quickly enacted but vague new plan to combat homelessness, their experiences demonstrate the importance of competent, sustained outreach and realistic offers of paths to permanent housing. 

The city of LA seems to be entering a new phase of how it approaches clearing encampments, but it remains to be seen if this will be a positive step into solving the homelessness crisis or yet another disguised effort to remove visible poverty, as has long been the status quo. 

By the summer of 2021, an estimated 20 to 30 people were living on and around the wide, grassy median on Burton Way, near the Beverly Center shopping mall. According to an outreach volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous, the tent community began to draw “anger and harassment” from apartment tenants living nearby.

“[There was] constant filming, constant threats of violence to unhoused neighbors … compared to other encampments I’ve been at, it was probably the most hostile NIMBY environment I’ve seen,” they said.

In October 2021, then-councilmember Paul Koretz submitted a resolution to create several new 41.18 anti-camping zones in Council District 5 — including the Burton Way median. This meant that it would become illegal to sit, lie, or store possessions in the area, forcing the encampment to move.

While the median was removed from the final resolution adopted by City Council, Koretz’s office pushed ahead with alternate plans to clear the encampment under LAMC 80.42.1, which allows the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to close traffic structures to pedestrians.

In emails obtained by Knock LA, a CD 5 field deputy claims that Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) had been performing outreach at the Burton Way site “for months” throughout late 2021. However, prior to the final cleanup, only person at the encampment, Daniel Dickerson, was placed in temporary housing — and his placement was largely due to the intervention of mutual aid volunteers, who followed up with LAHSA after the Project Roomkey placement he was promised fell through.

When the final sweep went down on December 16, another estimated 12 to 14 people were moved into hotel rooms through Project Roomkey. However, in the ensuing months, they all returned to the streets. 

Project Roomkey has previously come under fire for its strict rules and prisonlike conditions. One former Burton Way resident says he was kicked out because someone started a fight with him and he fought back in self-defense. Another, JT, was evicted without warning from the Mayfair Hotel the next summer when Project Roomkey ramped down.

Although JT had obtained a Section 8 housing voucher, he lost contact with his caseworker after his Project Roomkey eviction and wasn’t given any guidance on how to find an apartment. He wasn’t even aware the voucher had an expiration date until it was too late.

“I had a voucher and now it’s gone. I should have been in an apartment already,” he said. “But because of the way that they do things and everything’s set up, we lose out.”

As they trickled out of Project Roomkey, many former Burton Way residents returned to the same area, setting up camp just a few blocks away at La Cienega Boulevard and Blackburn Avenue. Naturally, in June, this new site was also declared a 41.18 zone, forcing them to shuffle off once again to San Vicente Boulevard.

According to a LAHSA report, outreach workers made a total of 62 visits to five different encampments in CD 5 between January and May 2022. In that time frame, only three people were placed in housing or shelter (all going into Project Roomkey). None of the seven recorded people at the La Cienega & Blackburn location were placed in housing during that period.

Between the displacements, evictions, and regular sanitation sweeps, encampment residents frequently lose the few possessions they have.

“I’ve been in three different spots because they move us around like crazy,” JT said. “I’ve had my whole camp stolen twice. Absolutely everything. The only thing I had was the things that are on my back.”

By the end of the year, the only person from the original Burton Way encampment who was still in housing or shelter was Dickerson. He had also left Project Roomkey during 2022, but later returned to housing thanks to the diligence of his caseworker.

“I was back in the Beverly Hills area on the streets … and when my emergency Section 8 voucher came through, [my caseworker] didn’t know where I was,” Dickerson recalled. “He found me because he was driving the streets in his LAHSA truck with his partner searching for me. He stopped in the middle of the road and leapt out to come let me know that I was getting inside.”

A hotel with multiple floors and a sign that says "Hotel Cecil." A white truck is parked in front of it.
The Cecil Hotel, which was converted into affordable housing in late 2021. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Dickerson is currently living at the Cecil Hotel, the infamous historic hotel in DTLA that was converted into affordable housing in late 2021. Although he has concerns about the building’s safety — when we spoke, he was nursing a broken arm after being attacked by a neighboring tenant the night before — he’s glad to be in an apartment with air conditioning, a lock on the front door, and a sense of security.

“We need stability. We need to have things to which we are beholden, that we have to take care of,” he said. “And 41.18 is designed to take that away from people so that they cannot feel that way. And it turns them into animals. We’ve gone feral because of it.”

Josh, who’s been on the streets for almost 10 years, recently obtained a Section 8 voucher and is beginning the process of finding an apartment. If he succeeds, he’ll be the second person from the Burton Way encampment to find permanent housing. Although it took a long time to get to this point, he’s optimistic that the city’s outreach efforts are finally paying off for some unhoused people.

“I’m seeing progress,” Josh said. “It can be a little faster, but it’s still progress.”

Mayor Karen Bass and Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky walk with multiple along with various people out of the Academy Museum lot to speak to people who are being offered hotels in an Inside Safe operation.
Mayor Karen Bass and Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky before the CD5 Inside Safe operation. (Photo: Jon Peltz)

LA City Council recently approved $50 million for Mayor Bass’s Inside Safe initiative, a “housing-first” plan to combat homelessness. The funds will go toward renting hotel rooms and paying service providers. Los Angeles Public Press reported that in the first month of Inside Safe, roughly 140 people were moved off the streets. 

However, there have been inconsistencies noted with the program. Participants from the Culver Boulevard median in Council District 11, who gave up their tents in exchange for hotel spots, have been moved around to various hotels over the past two weeks. 

Mutual aid volunteers say things went much more smoothly during an Inside Safe operation on 6th Street and Fairfax Avenue, right outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

A few former Burton Way residents lived at this encampment, including JT. 

On February 16, all 27 people at the encampment accepted hotel rooms in exchange for giving up their tents. According to The People Concern, the service provider contracted for outreach, an additional 17 people in the area were moved into hotel rooms the next day.

Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky tells Knock LA that the area was prioritized because of its proximity to LACMA, as well as the number of calls her office received about the encampment.

LACMA employees were present at the initiative, but declined to comment. Following the operation, LACMA roped off the sidewalk where the encampments had been, with signs reading “Maintenance is in progress.”

Yaroslavsky says her team had done outreach with the encampment for weeks beforehand to ensure they were ready to move. Yaroslavsky also specifically thanked mutual aid volunteers from Fairfax Mutual Aid for assisting with outreach. 

“There’s a lot that separates Inside Safe from 41.18,” said Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky. “My predecessor was using [41.18] without credible offers of housing, and so they’re just sort of blowing up encampments … If you don’t pair it with credible offers of housing, then you just move people around.”

A long fence surround the 6th Street side of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next to poles and ropes that are securing an area of the sidewalk where encampments used to be. There is a white sign that says there is maintenance happening.
The sidewalk by LACMA roped off after encampments were removed. (Photo: Jon Peltz)

However, the details of Inside Safe’s long-term plan are still unclear, and the program shares many of the problems of its predecessors.

According to grassroots organization Mar Vista Voice, large numbers of Inside Safe participants are also being assigned to the same LAHSA caseworker. This makes it difficult for participants to get in contact with someone who can answer questions and connect them with services during the housing transition.

At the Hotel Silver Lake, where many of those from 6th and Fairfax were taken, a Council District 5 representative told participants that they would be assigned a case manager from The People Concern, who would work with them to find permanent housing.

On February 10, Bass issued an executive directive to identify city properties that could be used for temporary and permanent housing. However, it remains unclear when this additional housing is expected to be completed, or when the individuals in Inside Safe will be connected with permanent housing.

Contributing reporting by Jon Peltz.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that an Inside Safe hotel was currently being operated by People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). We regret the error.