Business & Economy

Could shared housing get homeless off the streets?

Antonio Garcia, 27, has been homeless in Van Nuys for about two years.
Antonio Garcia, 27, has been homeless in Van Nuys for about two years. "I'm trying to hang in here," Garcia says. He's focused on teaching and helping homeless youth struggling with addiction.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Los Angeles is poised to spend $1.2 billion in voter-approved bond money to build housing for the homeless – but with that effort expected to take at least a decade, officials are looking at how to address the homeless crisis in the meantime. 

"I've always been concerned about what to do today, what to do tomorrow," said L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district spans the west side of the city. 

Proposition HHH, which passed in November, is expected to fund about 10,000 new units of housing for formerly homeless. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 44,000 people without homes in L.A. County. 

One of the options for more temporary housing Bonin and others are leaning towards is the idea of shared housing — boarding houses, more or less, where formerly homeless can use their disability or social security income to pay for rent.

The L.A. City Council Friday approved a $50,000 pilot to fund two housing specialists at SHARE!, a nonprofit that finds shared homes for homeless. The L.A. Homeless Services Authority also funded two shared housing programs in the past couple months.

"It works very quickly and very nimbly to get people off the streets within a day or two," Bonin said. 

He's hoping success through the program could lead to expansion citywide.

Pastor Regina Wells of the Homeless Task Force in Venice has used the strategy for years. She said she's helped get hundreds of formerly homeless into shared housing.

"It's not the Taj Mahal, but it's better than what they're staying in," she said. "I talk to them about, 'this is a step up. Set your sights higher.'"

Many, Wells said, have an eviction on their record and couldn't get a regular apartment right away even if they could afford it. After a year in shared housing, some have a good enough history of paying rent built up to get a more private place, sometimes with a person they've befriended in the shared house.

"Nobody as a child said, 'I want to grow up to be homeless,'" she said. "We have to reestablish their dream."

Traditional homeless shelters are less stable and more temporary and offer less of an opportunity to settle in and get comfortable. They can also be loud and less restful, she said.

"The most serious issue I see is sleep deprivation," she said. "Their sleep is constantly interrupted."

The first thing she tells people once they're housed, she said, is don't worry about anything –  just sleep for a week.