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Old Posted Jul 26, 2019, 7:30 PM
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Nearly a Year after Opening, DTLA El Puente Bridge Housing Helps Those It Can

From Streetsblog LA:

Nearly a Year after Opening, DTLA El Puente Bridge Housing Helps Those It Can
...But Is Hamstrung by Lack of Affordable Housing to "Bridge" Residents To

Image via Twitter/@ericgarcetti

By Damien Newton Jul 24, 2019

It’s been over a year since Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his “A Bridge Home” program to build temporary housing for the city’s growing number of homeless individuals. Just over three months later, the first such project, El Puente, opened adjacent to historic Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. El Puente (Spanish for “The Bridge”) is scheduled to run for three years from its starting date in September of 2018.

In announcing “A Bridge Home,” Garcetti promised that similar shelters would appear throughout the city in the short term. But high costs and local opposition–what the L.A. Times referred to as “the NIMBY Wall”–have slowed the expansion of bridge housing. In addition, the slow pace of building additional permanent affordable housing units have made stays at these temporary shelters longer than expected.

Nevertheless, according to Chris Espinosa, the director of Olvera Street (an L.A. City department), and John Maceri, the executive director of the nonprofit The People Concern which manages El Puente, things are going as well as can be expected.

“We have two choices. We can leave people on the street and the street population will continue to grow, or we can house them,” says Maceri. “If you put the housing where people are–and that’s what we did with El Puente–it brings some of those people indoors. It doesn’t completely eliminate homelessness in those areas.”

City Councilmember José Huizar represents El Puente and much of downtown as well as Boyle Heights and parts. Huizar pushed hard for this bridge housing program, meeting with local business and other opponents. Nearly a year in, he is happy with the development and the program and argues that the city needs more programs such as El Puente.

“For the people it has assisted, there is no doubt it is a success,” Huizar writes in a statement to Streetsblog.

“Whether they have gotten into supportive housing, or been able to secure a job or come back and help others, these are real people with real experiences and whose lives are changing for the better. We should also not underestimate the immense benefit, stability and clarity they all get from having the same bed to sleep in, access to restrooms, showers and meals, along with an array of social, health, job, and rehabilitative services.”

Rendering of El Puente Bridge Housing site – via Gensler

El Puente is located at 711 N. Alameda Street – just north of the 101 Freeway, very close to Union Station.

The site has five trailers. Three of the trailers contain fifteen beds each and serve formerly homeless individuals. Two of the trailers are for men, and another is for women. Of the remaining trailers, one contains bathrooms and laundry facilities for residents, and the other holds offices for case workers, social workers, and mental health professionals. The residents’ meals and snacks are prepared offsite and delivered.

Trailers with beds are open by key-access 24-7, giving residents with evening and night jobs access to a safe, indoor place to sleep. Maceri says that most residents have jobs, and the few residents that don’t work offsite have frequent regular appointments with case workers, city departments, or public health professionals to prepare for life in permanent housing.

El Puente has staff onsite 24 hours a day.

Inside El Puente’s residential trailers. Image via The People Concern.

Maceri is proud of El Puente’s record of moving people from temporary bridge housing to permanent housing. The goal is to move individuals to permanent housing within ninety days. In its first nine months, fifteen El Puente residents have been housed, and another eight current residents have obtained housing vouchers. Forty-five individuals have moved on to a different form of supportive housing, such as assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, or another interim housing project.

But even with these successes, El Puente has a waiting list of roughly fifty people at any given time.

Why is it taking longer than hoped to get people permanently housed?

“The stay is longer than originally anticipated, due to the lack of available permanent housing units. The plan was we would have about a ninety-day stay for individuals,” explains Maceri. “The biggest challenge we’re facing in Los Angeles is the lack of affordable housing, especially for people living on very low incomes.”


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