LOS ANGELES — Tiffany Bey’s bags are full of books: "The Hare with Amber Eyes" by Edmund de Waal, "The Dangerous Book for Boys" by Jill Footlick and "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad.
Bey also has science books, biographies and children’s books. She’s a bookworm and spends as much time reading as possible. “I like nonfiction better than fiction, because I’m a heavy researcher,” Bey said.
But Bey, who is homeless and lives in a tent in downtown LA, doesn’t have a safe place to store her books. So recently she signed up for The Bin, a storage facility on Towne Avenue.
“It’s great, I’m happy I found it because it really helped me out when I needed it. I store the items that are most valuable to me in here,” she said while unloading books at the facility.
The Bin is a simple solution to a complicated issue — storage for LA’s homeless. People who need a safe place to keep their belongings safe can sign up for a bin at no cost. Each bin is a repurposed, and clean, 60-gallon trash can where individuals can store anything from clothes to important documents, shoes, or in Bey’s case, books.
The site is funded by the City of Los Angeles and run by Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that helps unhoused people connect with resources and jobs. It’s free to sign up for a bin, and clients are just asked to check back in once a week and refrain from keeping any perishables in their container.
The Bin is fulfilling crucial needs for the homeless community. Without a place to hold on to meaningful belongings, or a birth certificate, unhoused people can face issues when trying to access social services.
“Anyone who wants to acquire any resource, the first thing they ask you is for your ID for any type of identity of proof and other supporting documents … there’s really no place to store them except on their body and carry them around all the time,” said Jessica Fuentes, director of operations and safe keeping with Chrysalis. Fuentes oversees three sites and over 2,600 bins throughout Los Angeles, and they are constantly at capacity. “There’s a lot of sentimental memorabilia here, pictures, paintings and other things like that. And it’s just a really good service, because people can use it however they choose to,” Fuentes added.
City council members have taken note of The Bin and Chrysalis’s success. Council member Nithya Raman introduced a measure that was passed seeking to create a city-wide network of sites like The Bin, where people can store their belongings.
“People are afraid that their things will be stolen and so they don’t go to appointments, for paperwork, for housing, for case management, for substance abuse recovery services,” Raman said.
“Offering storage is an incredibly important way of respecting that individual — respecting their lives and their boundaries and ensuring the path into housing is as free of barriers as possible,” Raman added.
Additionally, storage sites help alleviate another issue, overcrowding on LA’s streets.
“When we are seeing people walking onto the streets, because of the size of tents, storage options can create the ability for us to have safe and passable sidewalks, even as we are going through the process of building housing and getting people into that housing," Raman said.
Bey hopes that before long she’ll be settled in stable accommodations.
She has an 8-year-old son and is saving treasured books for him, including the Shel Silverstein classic, “Where The Sidewalk Ends.” “He’s really smart,” Bey said with pride. “I know the books are here, and they’re organized, so I can start a library when I go to my new place.”