LA City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell gives tour of housing options ahead of Echo Park Lake reopening

Long before Echo Park Lake’s homeless encampment became a public safety issue, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell was identifying and creating potential housing solutions for Council District 13. 

"Homelessness is the issue of the day. We didn’t get this way overnight, and we’re not going to solve these problems overnight," he told FOX 11 during a tour of ten current and proposed housing sites in the Rampart Village and Echo Park area.

Richard Espinoza spent years living on Skid Row but turned his life around at Project Homekey’s "The Nest" on Commonwealth Avenue. The 61-year-old now has a private room and bathroom, and received enough support and encouragement to start a new career.

"I wasn’t going to get this job if I didn’t have a bed," Espinoza said. "What’s the sense of having a good job without a bed?" 

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The site was purchased by the city and opened in March of 2021. It features 41 beds - each in a private room with access to communal space and individual fridges and storage space. There is on-site case management and cleaning services available, and it is managed by Volunteers of America Los Angeles

Their goal is to help people experiencing homelessness to get back on their feet and "make sure they get some stabilization, outside of living in sort of a survival mode, but also actually flourishing and having a home that they can call their own for at least a short period until they get something more permanent," explained Caleb Anderson, Assistant Director of Project Homekey Sites

The PATH Metro Villas on Madison Avenue was one of the first projects in Los Angeles to be built with Proposition HHH funds. It has 187 affordable housing units available to formerly homeless individuals. Directly across the street is one of the city’s first "safe sleep sites," which has a low barrier to entry to allow the unhoused to be able to access the site quickly. 

The Safe Sleep Village is managed by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy. O’Farrell’s team hired some of its workers to assist the city with the homelessness crisis. 

"They are made up of formerly incarcerated individuals, formerly homeless individuals, people who have had addiction issues in the past," O’Farrell said. 

Talking about the outreach efforts in Echo Park before its closure, he explained that "they were the point of difference, because by January they were starting to put people agreeably and willingly into shelters." 

The Safe Sleep Village has 73 10-by-15 foot spaces with individual tents, as well as restrooms, hand washing stations and trash services. There are also communal areas designed to host everything from karaoke nights to Thanksgiving dinners.

"It’s also a cooling station, so they can come out of their tents, socialize: game night, bingo and a whole lot of other activities that we want to do with these guys to let them know that we are family," said Urban Alchemy’s Wanda Williams, the site’s director. She experienced homelessness herself after struggling to cope with her mother’s death. 

"You go through phases where you’re hopeless. You go through hopelessness, you go through so much doubt in your mind, like am I ever going to get out of this place? Am I ever going to get out of being homeless? They just need a step up. They just need somebody to help them," she said. 

The Safe Sleep Village is located on a private lot thanks to an arrangement between Councilmember O’Farrell’s office and the property owner. The site is slated for future permanent supportive housing for low-income households, and will eventually have up to 454 units. 

A soon-to-be-operational Tiny Homes Village on Alvarado Street is another option that will soon be available to the unhoused. It features 38 tiny homes designed by people who were formerly homeless. The site is also on private property that sat empty for years, and is now part of a 3-year lease with the city. As with all temporary housing sites in CD-13, service animals will be allowed - the site even has a dog run. Some of the first people to occupy the Tiny Homes Village might come from the Safe Sleep Village, as they are already on an interest list. 

"We have to work hard and think very creatively about what spaces we’re going to choose for these housing solutions - they do not need to displace any other public use. And I think our example has shown that," O’Farrell said.