If you needed a reminder of just how bad homelessness has gotten, all one has to do is take a trip through Skid Row.
Scores of interconnected tents and makeshift structures dot the sidewalks, while the even less fortunate are often found without any type of shelter, vulnerable to the Downtown elements.
However, at Skid Row’s Union Rescue Mission, a different kind of tent is rising, one that URM CEO Andy Bales hopes will set the blueprint for a quicker, and more cost effective avenue to provide emergency shelter for the city’s growing population of homeless people.
The semi-permanent tent is developed by the company Sprung and stands 80-feet-by-40-feet in a space behind the mission that previously served as a parking lot for employees and volunteers. Not unlike the structures that are put up after natural disasters, the tents are heated and air conditioned, and are accompanied by 10 shower and bathroom units; one of the units is wheelchair accessible.
The shelter will be filled with women that currently sleep on inflated mattresses in the mission’s chapel to the shelter, after which the chapel will return to its original use. The mission’s chapel has served as an overflow room since 2017. The women will sleep on 60 bunk beds within the shelter, and will have access to a case worker and other programs that the mission offers, like medical services and job training.
“It will be constant, 24/7 care instead of just a reprieve from the mean streets for the evening,” Bales said.
The tent rises as homelessness in Los Angeles and Skid Row is only getting worse. According to the most recent Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s report, homelessness experienced a sharp increase over the past year, with a 16% jump across the city and a 12% increase in the county. During that same period, the number of people living unsheltered in Skid Row also experienced a noticeable climb, up 11% over the previous year.
Bales said that the mission has been looking at Sprung Structures since 2016 and originally planned to have the structure open by last Thanksgiving. Due to construction and permitting issues, the opening was continuously pushed back.
Bales said that the original plans were to simply find a structure that could be quickly installed.
“Honestly, we ordered something and paid for a down payment for something that not would have met code,” Bales said. “Then I heard about the Sprung structures as an option.”
The mission plans to hold a grand opening for the structure on Wednesday, Nov. 13, but whether or not the women move into the shelter later that evening is dependent on whether the structure passes its final checks by the grand opening.
That’s due in part because there is only one contractor in California authorized to construct the tents. URM has been sharing that contractor with the city, which is also building its own Sprung-like shelters. Two such structures have already opened, one in Hollywood, the other in South Los Angeles.
A longer construction costs also meant that the project became more expensive. Bales estimates that the structure shouldn’t have cost the mission any more than $700,000, but due to delays, the cost rose significantly, to around $1.7 million.
“It’s still a more affordable way to quickly put up a structure to quickly house people,” Bales said. “The challenge is that we have been sharing one contractor with the Mayor.”
Bales said that an expedited process to get the structures built, through either the Army Corp of Engineers or the National Guard, could increase the pace that the shelters could be built.
The structures have proven successful in other areas. San Diego has installed three of the tents, which city officials there believe helped cut the number of unsheltered people by 6%.