Project Room Key
Los Angeles, CA
Thousands of homeless people in LA County are now living in hotel rooms, otherwise empty because of the pandemic. VICE News looks at the program known as Project Roomkey.
VICE News looks at a program known as Project Roomkey, housing the homeless in LA
Juneteenth: A Conversation About Race, Homelessness, and Poverty
Los Angeles, CA
This was a special panel discussion with three esteemed African American Female Leaders.
This was a special panel discussion with three esteemed African American Female Leaders. The conversation addressed institutional racism, homelessness, and generational poverty. Combatting the homeless crisis in Los Angeles will take an all-hands-on-deck approach and a commitment to dismantling the racist structures that have prevented so many of our Black and Brown neighbors from thriving.
President & CEO of St. Joseph Center
Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D.
U.S. Congresswoman & Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness
Black people make up 8% of L.A. population and 34% of its homeless. That’s unacceptable
Los Angeles, CA
In Los Angeles County, African Americans represent 7.9% of the population. In the latest homeless count, with double-digit city and county increases that are uniformly disappointing and disturbing, Black people
By STEVE LOPEZ COLUMNIST
In Los Angeles County, African Americans represent 7.9% of the population.
In the latest homeless count, with double-digit city and county increases that are uniformly disappointing and disturbing, Black people make up 34% of the 66,000-plus total.
As has been true in other recent years, that is out of whack by four times, and it’s a particularly important number to highlight today, as a reinvigorated national conversation on racial disparities is taking place across the United States.
“Without institutional racism, there would be 15,000 fewer people experiencing homelessness, almost all coming from Black and Native American populations,” said the summation of county statistics released this week by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
On Friday, I toured skid row in downtown Los Angeles, which I first became familiar with 15 years ago after befriending a homeless African American musician. I vividly recall how police back then routinely issued tickets for things such as jaywalking to people who suffered from severe mental illness. My friend was a target more than once.
The area is still an outdoor museum of social and economic failure, with the stark results on full display. Tents and blue tarps are still everywhere, people sleep on clogged sidewalks, and the vast majority of homeless people on skid row — I’d say 75% or more — are Black.
You can find homeless Black people in any part of L.A. County these days, but why such a concentration on skid row?
For one thing, a county health official told me, many neighborhoods don’t have as much supportive housing, addiction rehabilitation and mental health resources as skid row does, due partly to organized neighborhood opposition throughout L.A. Through the decades, if you’re destitute, sick, hungry, traumatized, skid row is where you go. And for decades, Black Angelenos have disproportionately grappled with all of those things.
In L.A. County, racial disparities abound. Black people are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 as white people.
In Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the country, about 90% of those who attend district schools are students of color, and 80% of LAUSD students fall below the poverty line.
A Times study published a few days ago determined that of the nearly 900 people killed by police in L.A. County since 2000, 80% were people of color.
As I wrote on the first day of major demonstrations in Los Angeles, for all the wealth in the state that ranks as the fifth-largest economy of the world, schools are not equal, access to healthcare is not equal, criminal justice is not equal, and neither is access to good jobs with decent pay.
“You have all these institutional things that over decades and decades broke down the Black family,” said former state Sen. Kevin Murray, who was a member of the Legislative Black Caucus and now directs the Weingart homeless services agency in the heart of skid row.
What followed was mass incarceration and its aftermath.
When those incarcerated people were let out, Murray said, “sometimes after a relatively minor offense, they had nowhere to go and barriers kept them from gainful employment. They had no safety net, no family support system … and [homelessness] is the expected result of the kind of institutional racism people are now starting to resist.”
“What’s inherent in these disparities,” said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, who is on the front lines of the fight against homelessness as president of the St. Joseph Center, “is that rather than arrest kids, let’s educate them and let’s employ them because we know what happens when they’re educated and housed and working.”
Adams Kellum is on a LAHSA committee studying homelessness among African Americans. The chair of that committee is Jacqueline Waggoner, a LAHSA commissioner who works in the affordable housing field.
“Government created the differences we see in housing,” Waggoner said, touching on the long history of housing discrimination that drove segregation, and redlining, the practice of refusing to issue or insure mortgages in African American communities.
In a region where housing costs have soared and wages have remained flat, Waggoner said, people of color have been hit hardest.
“A lot of people are on the cliff edge of homelessness every day, and if you are poor and a person of color, you’re always with your feet half off that block,” Waggoner said.
It’s interesting that she mentioned redlining because when I was on skid row Friday, I stopped to see a guy I know who has been homeless for a decade or so and goes by the name of Old School. He wasn’t there, so I asked his homeless friend if he’d tell Old School to give me a call.
And how are you? I asked the friend.
“Not well,” he said, telling me about his diabetes and other issues. “How could I be?”
Old School called a few minutes later and I asked him why such a disproportionate number of homeless people in L.A. are Black.
No hesitation on his part.
“Because of deprivation,” Old School said. “That’s a penalty that was imposed on African American families. Employment opportunities dried up, housing dried up, and they drew a red line straight across the board. People are penalized for the color of their skin … and after the Rodney King riots, everyone was labeled a looter or a thief. The image of the African American male is of a thug.”
The demonstrations and violence across the U.S. since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have unleashed more than a few racist outbursts, and that kind of ugliness will never go away. But there’s also been an encouraging multi-racial demand for reforms on many fronts.
“The collective action and multi-cultural protests give me hope, because nothing will change until … people see that it’s my brother, it’s my last breath, I can’t breathe because he can’t breathe,” said Adams Kellum. “As a Black person, I love seeing that it’s not just us saying this.”
But are we willing to do more than protest? Are we willing to move away from what Waggoner calls “race neutral” policymaking and embrace “racial equity” policymaking, even if money is short because of the pandemic’s devastating effect on government budgets?
Are we ready to end the glaring disparities in K-12 education? Are we ready to invest in more homeless prevention for the families of color most likely to show up in next year’s homeless count?
L.A. County needs another half-million units of affordable housing, Waggoner said, but there’s been fierce opposition to new development in California neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.
“Is there a willingness in the community to say we want to fight racism by allowing density?” Waggoner asked.
Los Angeles is not alone when it comes to disproportionate homeless statistics, Waggoner said. Black people represent about 13% of the U.S. population and 40% of the nation’s homeless population.
“If we can fix it for Black people, we can fix it for everyone,” Waggoner said. “Because they’re the hardest hit.”
Meet Kimberly Hamilton of St. Joseph Center in Venice
Today we’d like to introduce you to Kimberly Hamilton.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Kimberly Hamilton.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I have always been invested in the success and growth of others. You can ask anyone who knows me and they will more than likely call me mama bear. I really struggled to plant my feet into the social service field upon earning my bachelor’s in Psychology at UC Santa Cruz. A lot of organizations were looking for someone with experience that I just hadn’t grasped yet as a fresh graduate and oftentimes, I felt hopeless about starting my career.
St. Joseph Center honestly found its way to me at the most perfect time in my life, with the help of my amazing mother. She met our fearless CEO, Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum at a mutual family friend’s get together and got her business card after hearing about the work that the agency does. I was blown away by their impact in the community and reached out to her the first chance I could get. I was invited into the agency to share more about myself and had such a good feeling in my gut the moment I walked inside, almost like I was home. This was the first place that I had honestly been seen and empowered to begin my journey as a social worker, after what seemed like an eternity of rejection.
I was in a space that created an opportunity for me that is literally the cornerstone of the agency: hope through empowerment. I was surrounded by compassionate workers who will use everything they have to support those in their care. Stepping into the agency propelled me into my purpose of serving and empowering others. I have been blessed with such a unique role that supports others while they gain skills and experience for the jobs they want to pursue in culinary and technology. I get to show up for others and remind them that anything is possible, as long as they work hard and keep their attention on it. I am so, so grateful for my journey at the agency. It has really helped me to ground myself in my purpose and I am inspired by the stories of our community members daily.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has been a bumpy road, with a couple of detours that I am grateful for because it really helped to prepare me for where I am at today. This is my first job in my field and I really struggled with imposter syndrome in the beginning. There were days where I would actually lookout for someone to notice I had NO idea what I was doing and then let me go. I had very high expectations for myself and wanted to be able to figure out everything and help everyone when I first started at the agency three years ago. I have since learned to cultivate boundaries and patience for myself because most of us don’t know what we are doing! I learned to trust myself and my compassionate heart and have become more accepting of the things I can’t control. I have had a lot of support from my coworkers to help overcome these challenges and am so grateful to have learned from them as I am still cultivating my craft as a social worker.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with St. Joseph Center – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
I am filled with pride when I think of the agency I am connect with. I am proud to say that we are a one stop shop for social services and help our community in a multitude of ways through housing, outreach and engagement, mental health and education/vocational training. You name it, we more than likely offer the service. SJC is filled with people who truly care about the well being of others, especially during a time of need. I am very proud to be connected to so many hard working people that help to uplift our community.
I reside in our education and vocation sector as vocational case manager. We have a culinary training program and web development bootcamp for women that are hosted out of our main site in Venice. I support our students and remove and challenges or barriers that impact their program participation or day to day lives. This can be anywhere from transportation barriers, housing issues and food insecurity, to name a few. I am known for figuring things out and making our students feel seen. I notice red flags and anticipate any challenges that may arise for our students as well while linking them to community services and resources.
I think what sets me apart from others is the level of care and compassion I put into my work. I treat others with a level of kindness that makes me very unique from my coworkers. This really helps me to create meaningful relationships with the people we serve. It is so important for the work that we do!
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I want to reach more people and take my work a step further by earning a master’s degree. I feel that the knowledge and framework I will establish will help me to be a better social worker and empower myself with more opportunities.
I am bouncing between an LMFT and MSW program. I feel that my interest in serving others is very broad and would like the opportunity to hone in on that!
Virus Galvanizes LA to House Homeless After Expensive Failures
One man has gone from Skid Row to an art deco hotel at beach
For more than a year, Conrad Wallace had been sleeping in a van, at the beach or on Los Angeles’s notorious Skid Row, where he was badly injured in a stabbing last year.
But since Saturday, Wallace, 59, and his son, Calvin, 21, have been bunking at the two-star art-deco Cadillac Hotel in the city’s Venice Beach neighborhood.
“We don’t care if we eat every day. What was our No. 1 priority?” Wallace said, turning to his son during a video interview. “We already got it. A place to stay.”
The coronavirus pandemic has done what years of bond measures, housing referendums, community meetings, and campaign promises failed to: provide housing quickly for some of the tens of thousands of homeless in the country’s second-largest metropolis.
Since the virus began its spread in California, state and community officials have rushed to find shelter for a population at high risk both for catching the disease and spreading it. Governor Gavin Newsom launched an initiative called Project Roomkey, which was designed to quickly lease 15,000 hotel rooms for the homeless statewide.
Los Angeles officials turned two dozen parks and other city facilities into shelters for some of the area’s estimated 58,000 homeless people. As of Wednesday, the region also had 1,350 of them sleeping in more than 20 hotels, with capacity for hundreds more.
Statewide, more than 12,600 of the authorized hotel rooms have been leased and 1,200 recreational vehicles delivered to communities for use as temporary shelters. Newsom has banned evictions based on nonpayment of rent.
“If there was a silver lining to this entire crisis, it’s this emergency response,” said Heidi Marston, interim executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a joint city-county agency. “They always say, ‘Never waste a good crisis.’”
Emily Uyeda Kantrim, associate director of the nonprofit Safe Parking LA, which finds spaces for homeless people with vehicles to sleep in, said she’s seen a change in attitude over the past month. She was shocked at how quickly officials responded. They traded text messages with her over the weekend to find two of her clients — a mother and her son with breathing issues — a hotel in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood.
Newsom has said Federal Emergency Management Agency funding will cover 75% of the cost of the leased rooms, including money for laundry, security, cleaning, and food. The California legislature allocated $150 million in emergency funds for additional support, though city and county sources are also being tapped.
“Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided,” said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, chief executive officer of St. Joseph’s Center, a homeless services center that administers the program at the hotel where the Wallaces are staying. “There’s a caterer that brings food, and nurses take temperatures during the foodservice.”
Los Angeles County, with over 10 million people, is to some degree the epicenter of the nation’s homeless crisis. A report last year from the White House showed the region accounting for the largest share of the 553,000 homeless people across the country.
Of course, the 2,200 Los Angeles County hotel rooms leased so far fulfill just a fraction of the need. Even before the pandemic, 130 people a day were moving into some form of housing, but 150 were losing their shelter, according to Amber Sheikh Ginsberg, who runs a City Council district’s working group on homelessness.
Encampments lie below highways, in parks and sometimes on busy boulevards, where the people set up lawn chairs and even potted plants.
Voters in the city passed a $1.2 billion bond measure and related sales tax in 2016 and 2017 to fund housing for the homeless. After many delays, the first 62-unit project opened in January.
Local officials face challenges including federal court orders that prevent them from kicking the homeless off the streets, soaring rent and housing prices, and neighbors who don’t want shelters nearby.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, facing withering criticism for his handling of the issue, formed a war room this year to address the crisis. Nearly every candidate in the March 3 city election addressed the crisis in mailings to residents.
Even now, Skid Row hasn’t been emptied. It’s still bustling with people, and many aren’t wearing masks or facial coverings.
Since Project Roomkey was announced, some cities have sought to block the leasing of hotels, and last week a housing-advocacy group sued in federal court to halt such actions.
“Elected officials are more willing to step into some of those fights if there are entities saying, no we don’t want this,” Marston, the housing official, said. “They’re really backing us up and saying this is the right thing to do.”
Even if the homeless don’t stay in these hotels past the pandemic, the present situation gives counselors an opportunity to work with them, according to Uyeda Kantrim, the housing advocate.
“This is the best time to converse with people and figure out what’s next because it’s as stable as they’ve been,” she said. “It’s an amazing undertaking and there will be bottlenecks, but no one that we’ve referred has been denied. There is money. And no one’s saying no.”
Marston said it’s important that the city builds on its initial success to find ways to help the many thousands still outside.
“We really didn’t have the interest of the business community and the hotel community in the way we do now,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to bring their staff back to work and pay them and make money and keep the lights on.”
“Things look different in LA right now. There are more people inside, and it’s noticeable.”
For Wallace, the program has been a lifesaver. He had worked security at the Staples Center arena but has had trouble finding employment due to diabetes, high blood pressure, and the need to care for his son, who suffers from severe asthma.
Fast-food restaurants turned the pair away and buses wouldn’t let him ride because he didn’t have a mask, he said.
“I didn’t think it’d take this long, finding a place to stay,” Wallace said, wearing a Kobe Bryant shirt and sitting on a couch in his hotel room with his son. “When they put us in here, it was wonderful.”
— With assistance by David R Baker, Sophie Alexander, and Edvard Pettersson