In recent years, dozens of unhoused people who live in recreational vehicles have found a home on Forest Lawn Drive in the San Fernando Valley, along the Los Angeles River near the cemetery.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles city officials are aiming to clear out around 54 RVs in what may be a first for LA Mayor Karen Bass’s marquee encampment clearing program, the displacement of people who live in RVs. The clearing is being conducted as a part of “Inside Safe,” a program to clear encampments across the city, and eventually provide housing to the people in them.
While city officials have not responded with information about, nor confirmation of, the operation, RV residents say they have had little warning about the impending move to displace them. Residents, and advocates for those in the encampment, say few resources or details about what may happen at a sweep, and afterwards, have been provided to residents.
One resident of the encampment, Tyrone Bloodsworth, has recently gotten out of the hospital where he underwent surgery for a hernia. Speaking at his RV this morning, Bloodsworth told LA Public Press that someone had recently siphoned gas out of his RV, leaving him scrambling to get his vehicle going again.
Bloodsworth explained that outreach for the Inside Safe operation was so inadequate it gave him the sense that “they want to take things away from us.”
“They could have came to us individually — talked to us,” he said. “Give us a week so we can get our stuff together, to find a place to move to, get registered, or whatever. Give us time. But no, they just smash this on us, put this on us.”
The mayor’s office and Councilmember Nithya Raman’s office had not responded to questions sent to them this morning about the Inside Safe operation that is imminent as of time of publication.
Not a unique operation
Wednesday’s Inside Safe operation won’t exactly be unique. The city has long conducted other RV encampment clearing operations — recently near Ballona Creek in southwest LA, and at an operation at Jasmine Avenue. The county recently launched its counterpart to the Inside Safe program, known as Pathway Home, that is focusing first on encampments that are predominantly made up of RVs.
The city of Los Angeles is not using RV-specific policy to enforce the sweep. More recently, the city of LA called for drafting ordinances to regulate “vanlording” — the practice of renting RV’s to people. Meanwhile, LA County is also considering a vanlording ordinance, but it’s entirely unclear how prevalent this practice is or if it’s at all related to the current Inside Safe operation.
Details of Inside Safe operations are usually kept under wraps. But an “action plan” document, which is typically not publicly shared, was shared with LA Public Press (that document was also shared with encampment residents). It details some of what is expected to happen at Wednesday’s Inside Safe operation. The plan is a public document, but is typically only accessible via a California Public Records Act request, which can take weeks to months. Notably, while the mayor’s office has described their Inside Safe operations as voluntary, and this document references “voluntary” resources, a “tow-away” sign appeared to have been posted on the street restricting parking on Wednesday. Residents say this will obviously mean being required to move their vehicles.
Meanwhile, one of the resources mentioned in the plan is the provisioning of storage, but it is unclear how much of that is available. The document only says it would be provided “only if needed and available.”
Signs that prohibit parking from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Wednesday could be seen posted along that street on Tuesday, when an LA Public Press reporter visited. Residents said the signs went up late last night, and one RV resident did not know about the sign until an activist, Peggy Lee Kennedy, told him about it at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Bloodsworth, who has called various LA neighborhoods, including Studio City and Hollywood, his home for the past three decades, explained to LA Public Press that he wants to sell his vehicle as part of a “buyback” program. This was why, even though he recently got an apartment in Eagle Rock with a Section 8 voucher, he was now staying with his RV.
“Instead of destroying it, why not get some money for it?” he said.
But with posted signs restricting parking on Wednesday, just as the Inside Safe operation is taking place, he now figures that he’d need to sell his RV by Tuesday, which didn’t seem like a realistic option, since it would take a few days logistically to participate in that buyback program. “I’m really stuck,” he said
Bloodsworth said that as a constituent of the district, he technically should have a say in how this operation is being handled, but that nevertheless, “the ball’s in their corner,” referring to entities like “the mayor, the police, the committees.”
Bloodsworth began parking on Forest Lawn Drive after being pushed off another street. Though labeled an “Inside Safe” operation, Wednesday’s operation so far seems no different from other operations around the city.
“I think that’s what’s happening with all the homeless encampments,” he said. “They’re not giving people time to do anything.”
Resources for RV residents in particular have been lacking, says advocate
Peggy Kennedy, who has surveyed RV residents throughout the city about what types of services they are seeking, says resources for RV residents in particular have been lacking.
She said city staffers have also acknowledged there are barriers for people who want to use safe-parking sites, which are locations where people can safely and legally park their vehicles and get access to services. The City Council only just got a report two months ago in October from the City Administrative Office, detailing a plan to expand safe-parking cites to allow oversized vehicles, and allow vehicles to stay in them for 24 hours.
That report and committee recommendations — which were amended by a motion from two councilmembers that calls for a “cost analysis” of a 24-hour RV program — was then approved Nov. 14, about two weeks ago.
“So what’s the deal?” Kennedy said. “They’d rather tow them, destroy them and put them in expensive motels. I mean, it’s sort of a crazy thing, because there’s tons of public lots that are not used … tons.”
Kennedy also predicts that if the city does not offer adequate storage, RV residents will decide to leave the area, rather than stick around for a motel room. She explained that “a lot of times an RV is very safe and very good and more permanent than a hotel might be.”
She said that even though city officials have claimed that Inside Safe operations are aimed at housing people, the reality is “that’s not happening.”
During Inside Safe operations the city has not been offering “signed contract promising permanent housing to people. They’re putting them into a hotel and they’re going to try and put them in permanent housing, which we know does not exist.”
On Tuesday morning, some RVs are already leaving ahead of the Inside Safe operation, according to Kennedy, who visited Forest Lawn Drive in late October to do surveys, and in response to the “tow-away” signs.
“If you’re not offering people at least storage for a certain amount of time until they feel confident that they’re going to get helped by Inside Safe, they’re going to choose to move their RV,” she predicts. “So this operation will be displacement. That’s exactly what it will be.”
At best 10% of people who have participated in Inside Safe have been permanently housed.
Another RV resident, Alex Spector, said he has four weeks left on his voucher, after struggling to find a landlord willing to rent to him. He said that not having credit is one of the things making it difficult for people to use their vouchers.
City officials and organizations could be more effective by addressing people’s practical needs people, like helping them get better credit, and making sure storage is available for them if they are to move, Spector said. But he isn’t confident that this is what public officials have in mind for them.
“This move we’re supposed to be doing on Wednesday, this was the first time I’ve heard anything about it,” he said. Spector added that the sign that was posted doesn’t seem legal, “and if it is, that’s a loophole that definitely needs to be addressed, because it’s not right.”
As citizens “we still have certain rights that we shouldn’t just step on because we are a more vulnerable people,” he said. “Taking away people’s rights because they don’t have money or power or a place to live — that’s not a very good thing to do.”
The Inside Safe operation plan includes details about motel rooms being set aside for residents there, primarily at a motel in Sun Valley. Typically motels have rules that residents must agree to or be kicked out. Residents of the Forest Lawn Dr. RVs did know about any possible rules when interviewed on Tuesday. The operator of the Sun Valley motel is LA Family Housing, a services provider contracted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that also has contracts to operate housing sites throughout the region.
LA Public Press reached out to LA Family Housing for information about the motel, and any rules that would apply to people living there. Their spokesperson Hilary Mandel initially said they would “do our best” to respond with the information requested, but ended up redirecting the request to the mayor’s office.
LA Public Press also reached out to LA Family Housing and the elected offices, to ask if they could detail whether services are adequate for Wednesday’s Inside Safe, as well as what it took to make them available, while still meeting any needs elsewhere, as a way to gauge or get a sense of how stretched resources may be across the city. They had not responded by the time of publication.
An October 13 report to the LA City Council that said that at best 10% of people who have participated in Inside Safe have been permanently housed. Among those that were included as “permanently” housed were those who received time-limited subsidies, which according to one analysis brings that percentage down to as low as 2%. The mayor of Los Angeles has also acknowledged they are still catching up on providing enough housing navigation services and mental health and substance use services.