‘Safe Enough’: A Hotel at the Heart of Los Angeles’s Embattled Homeless Program

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Its residents are not required to maintain sobriety or seek treatment for mental illness or addiction, as with all government-funded shelters in California.

The Hotel Silver Lake is perched on a bleak embankment near the 101 Freeway at the border of Silverlake, Little Bangladesh, and Historic Filipinotown. If you look west, you can see the offices of the nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). To the east, an archipelago of underpass encampments stretches toward Sunset Boulevard.

Before Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’s Inside Safe program contracted with the hotel to provide interim housing for the city’s homeless, it was a traveler’s nightmare, trapping tourists who came for “Hollywood” glamor and left with bedbug infections.

On a recent visit, Arturo Gasca, a man in his 50s, said he was living on the streets of Echo Park when outreach workers moved him there about a year ago. He has a caseworker, but she can’t do much to help him now that he’s lost his social security card, he said.

A much younger man standing in the hotel’s parking lot, who declined to give his name, arrived recently. He said he had been incarcerated, “just barely got out,” and his caseworker has connected him with a psychiatrist, job fairs, and food.

He said living at the hotel is “safe enough,” but “for gang members like me, it’s not that safe. Because the area, they come around.”

Last April, things seemed noticeably worse here: Several months into the program, no one appeared to have been matched with a caseworker.

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Security guards brawled with homeless men in the parking lot while an elderly man with a softball-sized hernia wandered the grounds. At the time, a nurse working for the city’s biggest harm reduction nonprofit pointed to chaos inside, where she said the city had left psychotic and severely addicted residents to fend for themselves, a lone maid cleaning up after them.

A man with a bandaged hand and dewy eyes, dulled by long-acting anti-psychotic injections, said the nonprofit followed him there from the hospital to clean his wounds and make sure he got his meds.

Now the site is officially administered by PATH, and some residents say they are getting needed services.

But more than a year in, the $250 million Inside Safe program is under increasing scrutiny for lack of transparency and results—with a lawsuit and a new audit looming.

A city controller audit released last December of interim housing and shelter bed data indicated the city’s methodology for collecting data on homeless persons and their referrals to housing were antiquated and inefficient.

The report also concluded it was “next to impossible” to know how many interim and shelter beds are available, and how many are being used at any given time.

A homeless man stands in front of an Inside Safe site in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A homeless man stands in front of an Inside Safe site in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

And on March 22, a federal judge ordered a sweeping, independent audit of all homelessness programs in Los Angeles, including Inside Safe.

Judge David O. Carter, presiding in a long-simmering case brought against the city by the Alliance for Human Rights, a nonprofit coalition, for failing to address the crisis, demanded transparency for every program funded or conducted by the city.

The agreed-upon scope will include a deep dive into the city’s homeless budget and spending, as well as outcomes, effectiveness, management, and impact. Both Mayor Bass and Va Lecia Adams Kellum, director of the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, have agreed to publicly post all invoices for homeless services—including supporting documents—within two weeks.

Despite reports from the city indicating 22,000 people were brought in the first year of the mayor’s tenure, only about 1,900 people were actually “housed” through Inside Safe and only 255 landed in permanent housing. The program cost $67 million in the first year of operations.

According to a contract with Hotel Silver Lake from last June, the city pays $105 per room per night, plus damages, and provides residents with housekeeping, linens, cable TV, and internet.

As with all government-funded homeless placement programs in California, Inside Safe sites do not require residents to maintain sobriety or seek treatment for drug use or mental illness disorders.

While some high-profile Inside Safe operations appear to have successfully removed encampments, others, like the Cahuenga Boulevard overpass in Hollywood, have repopulated. The latter was recently cleared for the third time, with gates put in as deterrents.

Men rest in a homeless encampment in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Men rest in a homeless encampment in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A sign for opioid antidote Narcan in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A sign for opioid antidote Narcan in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

In some cases, as at Hotel Silver Lake, new encampments have mushroomed around shelters meant to protect people from the streets.

The young man in the parking lot pointed to a middle-aged man, sitting next to him. “This is my best friend. He lives in his van. He’s trying to get in here but they’re not working with him,” he said. There is a vacancy at the hotel, he insists. “I’ve asked, and they don’t want more work.”

All around the hotel, the encampment ebbs and flows. Dilapidated RVs line a side street, while tents and improvised structures extend along Silverlake Boulevard, reaching an adjacent underpass encampment where police last year shot and killed a woman with a pellet gun.

A man in his 40s named Mauricio said he’d been living on the street in front of the hotel for about a year. He said no one has approached him with an offer of housing, either at the hotel or elsewhere.

“They haven’t asked. I’m OK here, but at night everything is different,” he said.

Two days later, the encampment is mostly gone. Three days later, it’s back again.

Despite multiple requests, representatives for the mayor and L.A. City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez, whose district includes much of Silverlake and Hollywood, did not answer specific questions about the site, including how many Inside Safe participants live there and how many have exited, or for how long the hotel will be contracted.

It is also unknown if any of the hotel residents have gone on to permanent housing, returned to the streets, or died. Such lack of transparency, accountability, and access to information has invited mounting criticism of the $250 million program.

Mr. Soto-Martinez’s office instead offered a statement about daily outreach efforts, hamstrung, an official said, because there are only 400 shelter spaces available for the district’s 3,000 homeless individuals.

The 13th District has the city’s fifth largest homeless population of 15 council districts, according to LAHSA’s most recent data from 2022, but it had the third greatest number of homeless deaths in 2023 according to a new analysis from the City Controller’s Office.

The councilman has repeatedly said he does not support enforcing public camping bans, like Municipal Code 41.18, which allows the city to designate sensitive areas that must be kept free from encampments—like Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, the high school across the street from Hotel Silver Lake.

Signs posted in 2021 near Camino Nuevo referencing Municipal Codes 41.18 remain in place. Requests for comment from the school were not returned on deadline.

Several other encampments in the district continue to proliferate in close proximity to schools, including across the street from the iconic Hollywood High School, where a major encampment recently returned, wedging tents in between planters that community groups installed as deterrents after the latest sanitation sweep.

Students wait in line to pick up school resources at Hollywood High School in Hollywood, Calif., on Aug. 13, 2020. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
Students wait in line to pick up school resources at Hollywood High School in Hollywood, Calif., on Aug. 13, 2020. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

LAPD officers have relayed to The Epoch Times that the city’s sprawling homeless topography poses challenges to enforcement—as gangs often infiltrate them, using tents as a “perfect cover” to run drug operations.

Each council district takes its own approach to 41.18, either enforcing it or not.

Some elected leaders and homeless advocates claim the measure fails because it displaces people instead of housing them—while residents and business owners, exasperated by what they see as a public safety crisis, argue it’s meant to protect public spaces.

Residents and business owners in central Hollywood, also in the 13th District, recently told Mr. Soto-Martinez at a town hall they were watching their neighborhood “dissolve” in front of them as a direct result of unchecked crime and homelessness.

But residents in the working-class neighborhoods surrounding Hotel Silver Lake may be less likely to get such an audience.

Dozens of area residents, business owners, and homeowners gathered at a town hall event to voice concerns about crime, economic decline, and homelessness in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles on March 16, 2024. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)
Dozens of area residents, business owners, and homeowners gathered at a town hall event to voice concerns about crime, economic decline, and homelessness in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles on March 16, 2024. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)

Next door to the hotel, most of the retail units inside a two-story strip mall are vacant.

Joselito Daroya, a CPA who has been at the location for more than two decades, said he started locking his business door and car in recent years, as crime increased. A homeless man assaulted his security guard, he said, hitting him in the head with a rock.

“Witnesses told me the police didn’t arrest him. Unfortunately, he has some mental issues, but our security guard lost his job for eight months,” he said.

Mr. Daroya’s firm, which his father started and which serves a large Filipino population in the area, used to be down on Vermont Avenue, but the riots in the 1990s drove them out, he said.

He said things have gotten worse over the last five years, where he is now.

From a back window he pointed to the side street between his building from Hotel Silver Lake.

“A year or so ago there was a dead body in a van down there,” he said.

A California Public Records Act request submitted to the Los Angeles Police Department for 911 calls and incident reports at the hotel and surrounding addresses since the beginning of 2023 was denied on the grounds that the records were part of an investigatory file and therefore exempt from disclosure.

Patrol calls for service furnished by the department showed a range of incidents at Mr. Daroya’s complex, the side street that separates him from the hotel, and a nearby intersection—including multiple batteries, burglaries, assaults with a deadly weapon, men assaulting women, robberies, grand theft auto, as well as mental health incidents and “unknown trouble” over the past year.

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