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Moving L.A.'s Homeless Away from Skid Row

An estimated 90,000 people in Los Angeles County are homeless, and about 11,000 of those live downtown in an area of less than one square-mile known as Skid Row.

County and city officials recently unveiled two major plans to fight homelessness. Both call for moving people out of Skid Row -- but many of the county's far-flung communities have not put out the welcome mat.

There are many large homeless shelters in Skid Row, but the sheer need is overwhelming. At night, the sidewalks of entire city blocks in the mostly industrial areas just east of the city center are lined with tents and impromptu shelters.

But there are ambitious plans to change that. A Los Angeles city plan calls for spreading services to some of the other 87 cities in the county, at a cost of $12 billion over 10 years. Likewise, the County Board of Supervisors plans to spend $100 million right away, setting up emergency shelters away from Skid Row.

The Union Rescue Mission, the largest homeless shelter on Skid Row, has its own plans to move more than 250 women and children to a former retirement community in the hills of northern Los Angeles County -- 71 exquisitely landscaped acres now called Hope Gardens.

Andy Bales, director of the Union Rescue Mission, says the open space can itself be a healing touch. He thinks of it as a "Psalm 23 experience," where people who have been abandoned can lie down beside still waters.

Marlene Rader and her neighbors, however, are hoping to stop the plan. She says the new shelter, just a couple of miles away from her home, wouldn't be a "good fit" with the rural area.

"It's not that I'm objecting to helping people," she says. "It's too big -- they could basically house all of Skid Row up here if they chose to."

Many residents of another nearby community called Lake View Terrace, on the other hand, think it's a good plan and generally support the Hope Gardens project.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."