Voters in Los Angeles will decide if the homeless can be housed in vacant hotel rooms

Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 12:49 PM CDT
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LOS ANGELES, Calif. (CNN) – Los Angeles is considering a new solution to its homelessness problem, and it has already become a contentious debate.

In L.A. County, more than 60,000 people are homeless while more than 20,000 hotel rooms lie empty on the average night.

Unite Here Local 11, led by Kurt Peterson, represents hotel workers in L.A. The union has gathered signatures, and now L.A. County residents will vote on a bill in 2024 that would force every hotel to report vacancies at 2 p.m. everyday. The hotels would then welcome homeless people into those rooms.

“We think this is one part of the solution,” Peterson said. “By no means do we think this solves the homelessness crisis. But do hotels have a role to play? Of course they do.”

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, disagrees.

“It’s just insane. It isn’t going to solve the problem,” he said.

Manoj Patel is the manager at an L.A. Motel 6. He voluntarily rents some rooms to homeless people who are vetted and paid for by a local church.

“Honestly, would you check into a hotel knowing that the chance of your neighbor to the left or right is a homeless individual?” he said.

Patel said that he is against a bill that would make this mandatory for hotels.

“We barely are surviving, number one. Number two, we have to think of the safety of our staff. And number three, we’re not professionally or any otherwise equipped with any of the supporting mechanisms that the homeless guest would require,” he said.

What services would be provided for the homeless remains unclear. Also unclear is how it would be funded.

Peterson said a pandemic-era program, which is now winding down, inspired the new bill by placing more than 10,000 people in hotels that volunteered.

“It’s up to the city. I mean, they did it during Project Room Key,” Peterson said.

Shawn Bigdeli was a recipient of the program.

“Well, first of all, it’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s a great room. The technology is not up to par, but, you know, what technologies do you have in the tent?”

This bill would also force developers to replace housing demolished to make way for new hotels, and hotel permits would be introduced.

Additionally, every hotel, from a Super 8 to the Biltmore, will have to accept homeless people as guests.

Bigdeli said he’s not so sure that would be a good idea.

“Maybe for some, but, you know, there’s a lot of people with untreated mental health, and some people do some damage to these poor buildings, man,” he said.

Manoj said his hotel sustained some damage from a homeless person.

“She marked all walls, the curtain she burnt, thank God there was no fire. Even marked the ceiling,” he said.

This is what some opponents of the bill to house the homeless in hotels are afraid of. They’re also afraid tourists could be put off from even coming to L.A.

“I wouldn’t want my kids around people that I’m not sure about,” Waldman said. “I wouldn’t want to be in an elevator with somebody who’s clearly having a mental break. The idea that you can intermingle homeless folks with paying normal guests just doesn’t work out.”

Peterson said the language the bill opponents are using may lead to backwards thinking about homeless people.

“There’s a certain class of people less than humans, animals, they’re almost described as, to be honest with you,” he said. “They don’t seem to understand who the unhoused are. We’re talking about seniors, students, working people. That’s who the voucher program would benefit the most.”

Some opponents say the union is pushing this bill as a negotiating tactic for leverage, but the union denies that.

They say they do want to make sure the hotels play their part in tackling a growing problem in Los Angeles.