Converting Motels to Homeless Housing is Good Business

The city of Los Angeles is considering an ordinance that would open the door for motels to be used as homeless shelters. Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Los Angeles has at least 328 motels with a combined 10,259 rooms.

And on any given night, the city struggles to find shelter for nearly 35,000 people, many of whom have chronic health issues.

These figures, cited by the real estate blog Curbed Los Angeles, come from an LA planning department report. The city is considering an ordinance that would open the door for motels to be used as homeless shelters.

To end homelessness, we need more private-sector solutions. This ordinance, which is expected to come before the LA City Council this month, would remove zoning restrictions that can prevent motel owners from converting guest rooms to housing.

Kelly Bruno is the CEO of National Health Foundation, a nonprofit that works within underserved Southern California communities.

We at the National Health Foundation applaud this decision. We have seen first-hand the positive impact of partnering with private business through an agreement we have with Reno Motel in Los Angeles.

In an innovative public-private partnership, our Pathway Recuperative Care program has leased the Reno Motel since 2010 to provide temporary shelter for 3,133 people experiencing homelessness.

In turn, the deal provides motel owners with a consistent revenue stream while also allowing them to play an important role in solving this pervasive community issue. The semi-private rooms are modest, but comfortable, and guests enjoy healthy meals, hot showers and the company of newly found friends, while also receiving the services and support they need to continue their path to stable housing.

This model also offers hospitals a safe discharge option for homeless patients when they no longer require hospitalization but still need to recover from an illness or injury, which could be exacerbated by returning to the streets.

Our model is successful because it is built on a foundation of “housing first” and incorporates trauma-informed practices. The amount of time a guest stays with us varies from 10 to 14 days, as the process of finding a permanent home can sometimes be lengthy.

However, we know that without housing, our clients will continue to experience complicated health issues necessitating a return to the emergency room, starting this unfortunate cycle all over again.

In the more than seven years of partnering with Reno Motel, which is located in a business park and next to an apartment complex, we have not received one complaint from the community.

Optimizing a property for housing those who have experienced homelessness takes diverse organizations working together, including motel owners, homeless services organizations, community organizations, police departments, health organizations and mental health providers. Together, these partnerships provide needed services to tenants while fulfilling the secondary role of educating the community of the benefits of housing solutions.

We have since expanded to an additional motel in La Puente in Los Angeles County. And last July, we partnered with the Salvation Army and Gold Coast Health to open a much-needed recuperative-care location in Ventura.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of the concerns communities have expressed about this population, believing they will be loud, they will congregate in front of properties or they will attract crime.

NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard) is one of the pervasive issues we face in solving the housing crisis. But this way of thinking is based on unfounded fears and the notion a community’s value will diminish if the homeless are housed within its borders.

Homelessness knows no boundaries, and old “homeless” stereotypes are outdated. Many of LA’s homeless are women who have experienced intimate-partner violence, as well as veterans, families and children.

If we are serious about ending homelessness in Los Angeles—and across California—we must work together and integrate the efforts of government with nonprofits and the private sector. We need an “all hands on deck” approach, and we need to embrace a culture of YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard).

People need housing. Encampments below overpasses and cars are not homes.

With this measure, we are moving toward offering our un-housed neighbors the dignity they deserve in the communities they call home.

Kelly Bruno is the CEO of National Health Foundation, a nonprofit that works within underserved Southern California communities.

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