One Year of El Puente

It’s been just over one year since the first of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” shelters opened in Downtown. And after one year, what lessons can be learned from it?  

It’s a fair question to ask. The project, dubbed El Puente (“The Bridge”), is located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles and impacts both homeless and housed populations in the area. Beyond that, the site serves as a pilot effort for Garcetti’s program, which hopefully in the near future will lead to similar shelters in all 15 council districts.

El Puente opened Sept. 10, 2018 on a city-owned parking lot near El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. It houses beds for 30 men and 15 women in three trailers, laundry and hygiene facilities in a fourth trailer, and a fifth for staffers and case managers. It also has an outdoor deck linking the trailers.

Los Angeles Downtown News detailed the project’s first year of service last week. Designed to help match individuals with permanent supportive housing options within three-six months, officials from both the Mayor’s Office and The People Concern, the organization that operates the shelter, noted that although the project is keeping up with metrics, it’s lagging behind in meeting its primary function, matching people with permanent supportive housing.

As of last week, only 13 of the 92 people to be serviced by the shelter have been matched with housing. People might scoff at the number 13 considering the cost of operating the shelter — $2.4 million for the first year and $1.3 million for the next two — and the size of the homeless crisis, but the operators can only do so much with a limited permanent supportive housing stock. Voters passed Proposition HHH in 2016, a $1.2 billion bond to fund much-needed permanent supportive housing construction, but that has been slow to arrive and at high cost.  

But even with the arrival of those units, there is no easy fix, or perfect solution. Some people need mental and substance abuse treatment. Others need renters’ assistance. The lack of supportive housing and low-income housing in Downtown and Los Angeles as a whole continues to make it difficult for people to transition out of homelessness.

Despite serving more people in a year than expected, El Puente’s primary goal is still lagging behind due to factors outside of the operator’s control but it’s not a zero-sum game. The shelter has provided dozens of other people with services and helped them connect with other housing outside of permanent supportive units.

El Puente’s first year deserves praise, but if the shelter and the rest of the “bridge homes” are to be successful, it’s important to remember that the services that the location provides is just part of a larger web of services.