The High Price of Bridge Housing Patrols

The 45-bed “El Puente” shelter opened on a former parking lot near Olvera Street in September. 

DTLA—When Mayor Eric Garcetti last spring unveiled his plan to build emergency homeless housing projects in each of the 15 City Council districts, he knew he would meet resistance. It’s a fact of life in Los Angeles: Every time someone in any community outside Skid Row seeks to create new services for those living on the streets, there will be opposition; it ranges from gentle pushback to virulent vocal and social media-driven NIMBYism.

So Garcetti was smart to promise that whenever a project in his A Bridge Home initiative opened, there would be corresponding services in the surrounding blocks. These “special enforcement zones” would see increased street and sidewalk cleaning, as well as a prohibition on tents from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. each day.

As with almost every project in Los Angeles, it has taken longer than anticipated for the bridge housing sites to come online. Now they are arriving, and as they do, the cost of enforcement is becoming clear. When it comes specifically to security, which is provided by the LAPD, the price tag is far higher than almost anyone could have anticipated.

Police Patrols Near El Puente to Cost More Than $1 Million a Year

This raises a pressing question: Can the cost be lowered while still providing the level of service needed to aid homeless individuals and meet the demands of residents and workers?

Los Angeles Downtown News last week reported on the high costs tied to the bridge housing patrols. The story revealed that police overtime will run $96,171 per month in the next fiscal year for patrols in the vicinity of the first A Bridge Home site; that’s El Puente, which debuted last September on a former parking lot near Olvera Street.

Over a year, that works out to $1.15 million, and that’s in addition to the 45-bed project’s annual operating cost of $1.3 million (which includes private security on the site). Garcetti’s new budget allocates the same funding for enforcement zone patrols at two other A Bridge Home locations: one in Hollywood, and another coming to Downtown Los Angeles, a 115-bed facility at 1426 Paloma St. in the Fashion District.

A Mixed Response for El Puente Shelter

There are currently plans to open at least 20 A Bridge Home sites in the next year. If 20 in fact arrive, and each has the same price tag for nearby police patrols, that would work out to $23 million annually. Over two years that amounts to $46 million.

That’s a hefty expenditure, and while Garcetti’s current $10.6 billion city budget allocates a lot of money for LAPD overtime, an economic downturn could slash the cash available.

The high cost — more than $3,000 per day — stems from the fact that LAPD officers in enforcement zones earn overtime wages 24 hours a day, with two two-officer teams on foot or bike patrol each working 12-hour shifts. Officers volunteer for the duty, so after their regular weekly shifts, they can sign on for the assignment. That has to please the police union.

One has to question if this is sustainable going forward. A Bridge Home sites are a vital part of the city’s response to homelessness, but we’d like to think that the smart minds in city government can find a way to reduce the cost.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News