Sunday, September 25, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

LA County Program Helps Homeless Car Dwellers

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A growing community of people living in their cars in southeast Los Angeles will get support to connect with housing and health services following a vote by county leaders Tuesday.

The five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved programs that will help those living out of their vehicles to properly dispose of their waste, find safe locations to park overnight and eventually transition into affordable housing.

The county will also immunize the homeless and offer other health services. County funds will provide rental move-in assistance and pay to destroy vehicles deemed too dangerous to live in or hazardous to the environment.

Cristian Riehl, a member of the St. Joseph Center team that reaches out to people living in vehicles, told supervisors Tuesday that the program is a “beacon of light for the lost.”

The St. Joseph Center provides services for low-income individuals and families.

A pilot program has already moved 59 people into affordable housing since July 2017, a county report said.

According to the report, people living in vehicles often find it too expensive to pay to dispose of septic tank waste and household trash, meaning it would be less expensive for the county to subsidize waste disposal than pay to clean up improper dumping sites.

Officials will push tow lot owners to stop buying and reselling “substandard, unclaimed recreational vehicles” used as dwellings by homeless people as well.

In some cases, it’s cheaper for people to purchase their previously towed RV through an auction than pay tow fees. The report referred to the process as the “RV cycle.”

The collection of vehicles has grown over the last decade despite an increase in resources and outreach efforts.

According to a 2018 homeless count, 9,181 vehicles are being used as residences in LA county, with just over half of those classified as campers or RVs.

California leads the nation with both the highest number of people experiencing homelessness – about 134,000, or 24 percent of the nation’s total – and the highest proportion of unsheltered homeless people in any state at 68 percent, according to an April 2018 California State Auditor report.

Supervisors said they hoped the pilot could be replicated in other parts of the county.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the program is not meant to be used as a “cookie cutter approach,” urging his colleagues to remember that each county district has different needs.

County officials said they are still estimating the cost of running the pilots, which for now will target people living in vehicles parked in the unincorporated communities of West Rancho Dominguez, Rosewood and Willowbrook.

Funds from Measure H - a voter approved tax that will generate $350 million over 10 years for homelessness prevention programs - will finance rental assistance, outreach and other elements of the pilot programs, officials said.

In nearby Orange County, a federal judge is pushing officials to either build shelters and affordable housing for unsheltered homeless residents or face an injunction barring them from enforcing anti-camping ordinances.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.