LOS ANGELES — After four years of camping a block away from historic Olvera Street in downtown LA, it was not hard for 56-year-old Phuc Le to decide what to keep and what to toss as he said goodbye to his tent.
“I don’t want to be out here no more. I want to wake up in a bed that’s warm and not worry about people taking my stuff,” Le said as he boarded a van headed for a nearby hotel.
Le was one of 18 people experiencing homelessness near Olvera connected with shelter Monday, according to Pete Brown, communications director for Los Angeles Council member Kevin de León. The area around the historic street will soon prohibit sitting, lying and sleeping in the public right-of-way under LA’s new anti-camping ordinance, which allows council members to clear certain sidewalks in their district after council approval.
With 18 moving into shelter, about 52 remain, Brown said.
The city’s renewed urgency to clear encampments was on full display Monday, with at least seven agencies working to urge the unhoused population to accept shelter and then destroy their tents.
“It’s about housing, housing, housing,” de León said. “Because we can’t criminalize folks because all we do is move them from one block to another block and they become someone else’s problem...and that’s what they’ve been doing for years, if not decades, in the city of LA.”
Once each person is offered either a bed in a shelter or a hotel room through the FEMA-funded hotel program Project Roomkey, camping will be banned Dec. 16.
On Monday, de León welcomed the involvement of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who came to the site with dozens of deputies and a PR agency to arrange interviews with the press.
“We have city workers here, we have LAHSA, (de León’s) office is here, our HOST (Homeless Outreach Services Team) is here and things are moving pretty good,” Villanueva said.
Both de León, who is running for mayor, and Villanueva, who is running for re-election, said the time for talking about the crisis is over.
“We will work with any individual, it doesn’t make a difference who you are or where you come from – on the left or the right or points in between,” de León said. “I think Angelenos want action.”
For Brandon Boone, the sheriff’s team may have made the difference Monday. Boone said he became stranded in Los Angeles when he ran out of money trying to get home to Tennessee after living on the streets of Hawaii. Deputies told him if it came down to it, they would personally pay out of pocket to get him home.
“I would go back on the tail feathers of a pigeon, I don’t care,” Boone said, “just please get me where I’ve got to go and get me off these streets.”
As for Le, he credited outreach workers with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority for his move into the LA Grand Hotel. He’s one of nearly 500 homeless people now living on the federal government’s dime inside the downtown hotel.
His next hurdle will be finding something permanent before the program ends in March.