12
Wed, Jun

Forced Removals and High Costs: Unhoused Participants Face Displacement from State-Funded Programs

LOS ANGELES
 

UNHOUSED & DISPLACED - 

  • Unhoused participants were prematurely removed from an Encampments to Home program by a service provider so the motel could host Inside Safe.
  • Project Homekey, where some Encampments to Home participants moved, is shutting down unnecessarily.
  • Some unhoused guests pay >$100/daily to stay in contracted shelter motels.
  • State-funded programs are plagued with wasteful redundancies and apathetic or corrupt oversight.

Last summer, an Encampments to Home operation in the LA River wash placed several unhoused people into motel rooms using a $1.8M State encampment resolution fund “ERF” grant.  Eligible unhoused people initially signed 30-day participant contracts with Glendale service provider Ascencia.

Council District representatives and nonprofit operators assured guests they would be allowed to stay longer (if they didn't first graduate to housing, as the name of the program implies).  The budget for the State-funded program included 30 motel rooms for 12 months, which should be the equivalent of 10,950 “motel nights”, without clarification on which motel(s) it might be.

At $110/night, the budgeted motel nights total $1.2M, which would consume the majority of the ERF grant.  But ERF are eligible to receive additional “rounds” of funding at CALICH’s discretion, and $192M of ERF grants were just recently approved, with over a quarter of them dedicated to Los Angeles.

Housing outcomes from the program were vague, but included Rapid Re-Housing/Time-Limited Subsidy, Permanent Supportive Housing (Cecil Hotel was mentioned specifically by case management), or transfers to similar programs, according to one unhoused source who spoke with Ascencia frequently in 2023, but never got placed indoors by them, because they “ran out of room”.

By January 1st, only six months after intake, no one was housed, and only a few were still sheltered.

What happened?

In December, a motel enrolled with the City for use in the Mayor’s Inside Safe program while it was still housing people from the L.A. River.  It was able to enter into the City contract despite enlisting with the 12-month, State-funded ERF program just six months prior.  It may have also been participating in additional shelter programs, like Augmented Winter Shelter (AWSP), which starts November 1st and ends March 31st each year.

No-bid Outreach Contract

In addition to being supervised by service provider Ascencia, street medicine team Healthcare in Action of SCAN Group secured a no-bid contract to provide primary medical care to people living in the wash and shelter motel.  Contract C-143433 in the City's Council File Management System (CFMS) dated June 5th, shows Healthcare in Action were to be paid $113k for services delivered through June 30th.

One of the first motel shelter guests entered in May, then disappeared a few months into his stay, and another who entered in June was locked out of his room in November.  He reported being verbally threatened with “termination”, but never receiving a specific date or transfer plan, much less getting anything at all in writing, as required by law.

CA Civil Codes Section 1954.08-.093 (sunsets January 1st, 2025) advises motel owners to duplicate keys and extend common amenities like parking spaces and WiFi free-of-charge to all shelter program participants.  A few guests, including one who had lost their keys once, were physically removed from the motel at the end of November by their caseworkers.  Possessions, hastily-packed into flimsy trash bags that quickly tore open as they were dragged down stairs, didn’t contain participants’ IDs, cash, savings, etc. after they were removed from Ascencia’s van and unpacked.

In one case, an inheritance check from a deceased stepparent's estate vanished.  That participant was surprised when their stepparent died of COVID-19 at the end of 2022 and was afraid depositing the check would make them ineligible for housing assistance.  If they had known they weren't getting any assistance from their designated Housing Navigator, they could have acted accordingly and deposited the check before being removed from the shelter program, sans wallet.

This “lose-lose” scenario is illustrative of issues encountered by unhoused people who don’t get any housing assistance along with accepted shelter placements.  They end up having to choose between trying to obtain housing on their own or remaining in the shelter when they realize they can’t do both simultaneously.  To make matters worse, there is no practical way to review or appeal nonprofit “terminations”, and Measure H-funded pro bono legal supports are subject to gatekeeping by service providers because they require a referral.  A participant couple was denied a referral by LAFH after Ascencia refused to facilitate their grievance about unnoticed termination.

In that case, Ascecia refused to provide a grievance form after dropping off participants at a public “encampment” in November.  They were instructed to call a supervisor, despite having no ability to charge a phone outdoors, nor any ability to print/scan and fill PDF forms, much less in the limited timeframe their grievance procedure requires.


 

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH A DISPLACED PARTICIPANT.

“My freedom was isolated.”

“I got used to being in a home again.”

—displaced participant


 

Encampment to A Bridge Home

Guest removals without notice violate CA Civil Codes Section 1954.093, which calls for motel program “terminations” to be done in writing, with at least 30 days’ warning, accompanied by a transfer plan.

In the specific case of the people who were targeted by this ERF, multiple CD staff swore verbally and in writing that no one would be given an ultimatum to go to congregate shelter or the streets when the program was over.  Participants were expecting non-congregate shelter offers because they cautiously accepted these promises, but they were punished with physical removal if they declined congregate shelter placements in A Bridge Home.

Encampment to Project Homekey

In December, remaining guests were given 30 days' notice to leave their motel rooms, but they got physically removed just two weeks later, according to one participant.  He is one of several I spoke with who has paid cash to stay in a similar room at the same motel since being removed. Some others were transferred to different interim shelter motels including Project Homekey.  But PRK, too, is “demobilizing” by July, laying off staff in the process and causing them to have to file for unemployment assistance from the State (despite the State also paying for the ERF that displaced some of them into Homekey, which was also funded by the State).  I spoke to a few guests who were transferred to other City/Council District interim motels, but they were removed within days for violating rules that did not apply at their original ERF motels, or refusing to relinquish prized possessions like an iMac or bicycles, and unable to appeal.

Conversion of interim motels into permanent units

The reason service provider LAFH gives for the Homekey closure is “conversion into permanent housing”.  PH conversion may involve renovations, but it mostly means a new agreement must be negotiated with the City, another jurisdiction, or another source of funding, such as philanthropy.  Without an agreement, the shelter motels are essentially housing homeless people for free, which is something they have no business interest in doing.  Once the nonprofit isn’t bringing in money, it quickly removes all clients, despite any housing progress.

A Homekey staff member confirmed that hotel guests were made aware of their planned removals in a participant meeting.  During a phone call in March, he also reported LAFH staff would be laid off.  He was initially protective over the timeline of the hotel’s closure, then revealed the layoffs after he was told participants had spoken to media and were disappointed over their impending displacements.  Both participants and the staff member were consistent in understanding they’d be let go/removed “by July”, regardless of progress in case management.

Encampments to Encampments

Why did Encampments to Home guests get removed to the streets in December, much earlier than planned, when there were resources dedicated for six additional months and deadly rainstorms were approaching?

L.A. Mayor Karen Bass' Executive Order “EO” 6 invites owners to do business with the City by contracting for Inside Safe if they have vacant rooms.  This incentivizes illegal displacements of residential hotel tenants, who are supposed to be protected by rent control.  Capital and Main and Propublica investigated the City's disregard for RHO protections by questioning purchases of protected buildings with State Homekey funds, as well as the City’s use of RHO motels in interim shelter programs.  

Converting permanent RHO units to interim use

By removing RHO regulations from designated units, protected permanent housing is being taken off the affordable rental market for use as interim shelter.  This triggers a cycle of low-income tenants being replaced by unhoused program participants, as motels cycle through various booking and occupation agreements which all eventually end in displacement.

It seems the ERF motel's Inside Safe contract, C-144708, dated in December 5th, was likely the incentive for the ERF-contracted service provider, Ascencia, to remove unhoused participants early.  But Ascencia didn't have to violate their rights to receive proper notice and due process when the program demobilized.

Self-advocacy backfired

Ironically, the unhoused Encampment to Homes/ERF participants were advocating to CALICH and City Council be absorbed by Inside Safe from at least early November.

Participants believed the intention of the program was to house them, as the name Encampment to Home implies.  They showed caseworkers local vacancies in range of the American Rescue Plan-funded vouchers that expired in September.  Once the targeted Emergency Housing Vouchers expired, displacement became imminent.

Displaced motel shelter guests had no clue their request for integration into Inside Safe was granted until an unhoused investigative journalist discovered the contract with the City.  Obviously, the reason for their request to be invited into the Mayor’s Inside Safe program was to avoid displacement.  And ironically, their request was quietly granted in such a way that it seems to have caused or contributed to their removals.

Displaced program participants and unsheltered people who were unable to access the shelter program have been combining meager incomes from General Relief, recycling, (a GoFundMe) savings, and odd jobs such as housekeeping, writing, and bike repair in exchange for access to some of the rooms they had been removed from months ago.

This granted them access to electricity, refrigeration, a microwave, storage, television, WiFi, showers and a bed behind a locking door.  When their money ran out, they started looking into the mysterious and disappointing ending of the program that once footed the bill.

Former guests, some disabled, struggle to afford the $110 daily rate at the motel, where they are constantly falling into arrears, despite it being contracted for use by both the City and State/CD4 Council Office, as well as being a part of 211LA and LAHSA's Augmented Winter Shelter program (AWSP).

When unhoused people in the area targeted for the ERF call or chat with 211, they are still unable to access any of the motel shelter programs which appear to be operating in their neighborhoods and receiving funding.  I observed several of their attempts and placed calls myself.

To verify claims against the shelter programs that failed them, I personally called the motel to see if a payment would be accepted for a room reserved by an ERF participant, and received a receipt for a partial debit charge toward the overdue balance on a room under their name.

The motel phone number appears to have disappeared from Google results, but I had retained it from checking rates and availability in November, when I tried to advocate for the locked-out guest to at least be able to access their possessions.  They said they were booked through the end of 2023, but would have rooms available for $110 in 2024, and basic caller ID names the number after the motel owner.

The unhoused people and sheltered guests I spoke to as sources were all very protective over the unnamed motel’s owner.  That person will remain unidentified, and I also consider them to be a valuable source/whistleblower for this article who is interested in at least keeping these people in-place.

The affected sources stressed an important point: their current situation of paying market rates for government-funded no congregate shelter should not have been possible, much less able to persist.  They aren’t asking for help paying their balances or nightly rates at this time, but rather would like enforceable protection against displacement, criminalization and further exploitation.  They want their voices heard by CALICH, who oversee ERF grants, as well as City Council’s Homelessness and Housing Committee.  They want to be able to call-in and address HnH Committee for five minutes at the next meeting.

(Ruth @roofless is an unhoused #whistleblower and an independent investigative journalist.  She has lived in public in the City of Los Angeles continuously for over five years and first experienced displacement in 2003.  She does audio correspondence for LA Public Press on their podcast SMOGLAND Radio.)

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