Empty LA Convention Center could be used to house homeless, council members suggest

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Some unfortunate consequences to the coronavirus pandemic may be used to help ease the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

Three city council members are proposing that large facilities which sit empty because of the pandemic, like the Los Angeles Convention Center, can be used as temporary shelters for the homeless.

City Councilman Curren Price introduced a motion Tuesday seeking a report on what it would take to transform the 720,000-square-foot L.A. Convention Center in his downtown district. The property has not been used for conventions since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the pandemic has forced more people into homelessness, Price said.

City leaders have seen a similar conversion work before.

Earlier this year, the massive convention center was turned into a temporary medical facility used as an overflow for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, with 250 beds set up.

The center normally can host multiple events at one time, with a capacity for 22,000 convention attendees.

With an estimated 40,000 homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, encampments have gone up throughout the region on sidewalks, in empty lots and under freeway overpasses.

"Bring individuals in from the cold as we identify locations for them to go on a more permanent basis," Price said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he supported the feasibility study, though he hoped all city shelters would be used to their full capacity before turning to the convention center for space.

"I want to make sure that we fill that capacity that we have," Garcetti said. "But the more beds the better, in general."

All council members are under pressure from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing a lawsuit alleging the city and county have not done enough to get people off the streets. Carter has asked each council member to set a target for the number of new beds they would create in their districts.

Carter has focused on areas near freeways, and Price's district has one of the largest populations of people living beside a freeway, according to the Times. He said using the convention center would help shelter that group.

Newly elected Councilman Kevin de Leon seconded Price's motion. He called homelessness a "humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions" and said in a statement that the center could be a refuge for unhoused residents "now facing the long winter months with virtually no access to a warm place to sleep at night."

At the same time, Los Angeles County is studying the impact of its Project Roomkey, which has temporarily taken about 4,000 homeless off the streets by using vacant hotel space. The county wants to see if the project has saved the county money and if there is any way to move it forward.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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