Los Angeles convention center may be transformed into homeless shelter: report

Council members are under pressure from a district judge to shelter homeless people in their districts

Los Angeles City Council members have requested that the city look into transforming the Los Angeles Convention Center into a homeless shelter, according to a report on Wednesday. 

Councilman Curren Price, who introduced the motion, said the coronavirus pandemic had worsened problems for the city's homeless and elected officials needed to act, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

“We’re in a panic situation along with a pandemic situation. Folks on the streets are just suffering,” he said. “Getting people off the street is important."

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Aerial view of crowded cityscape with modern skyline and traffic, and the Los Angeles Convention Center located just beyond the freeway in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Aerial view of crowded cityscape with modern skyline and traffic, and the Los Angeles Convention Center located just beyond the freeway in Los Angeles, California, USA.

The push comes as the council members are currently under pressure from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to shelter homeless people in their districts, the paper reported. Carter is overseeing a lawsuit which alleges that the city and county have not done enough to get homeless people off the streets.

Price’s 9th District, which includes the convention center, has more than 4,800 homeless people in 2020. While there are nearly 2,700 homeless on the streets in his district, nearly half are sheltered -- a rate well above the city's average.

He also argues that the convention business won't be returning for years due to the outbreak. The center has mainly stayed empty as health rules currently prohibit large-scale events there.

Some feel that once hundreds of people call the shelter home, the lack of adequate supportive housing could strand them after the pandemic is over, according to the Los Angeles Times. Others wanted to know the financial implications. 

Doane Liu, executive director of the city’s Department of Convention and Tourism Development wanted to know the costs of housing the homeless at the center and the impact the decision would have on the city's economic recovery from the pandemic. 

"Specifically, our convention center does not have enough bathrooms, does not have any showers," Liu told the paper. "When the building is empty, electricity and utilities are not on. Those are costs that are going to need to be borne by somebody.”

San Diego moved homeless people into its convention center early in the pandemic. Once it reverts back to its original use by the end of this year, roughly $40 million will have been spent to run it as a shelter.

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Liu also noted how the Los Angeles Convention Center is used for events in the city. 

“We have legally binding contracts for the convention center practically every day for the next five years,” Liu said. “Across the board, every one of our clients wants to have our event the minute the state allows it.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was open to the idea of using the center but he still felt that hotel rooms and motel rooms were a more efficient way to get people off the streets, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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“I think it merits studying,” he said. “I’d like that report to be turned around quickly.”