Last October, a community of unhoused residents in Historic Filipino town were pressured into leaving their encampment on Juanita Avenue, as part of LA Mayor Karen Bass’s Inside Safe program – with the city promising them housing and services at a motel.

Now those unhoused Angelenos, many of whom are Filipino, say they face harassment from service provider staff, arbitrary rules, and limited services. In response, they have applied their own steady pressure on those in power to draw attention to the challenges they face at the motel. 

Those efforts have so far yielded a sit-down meeting. Last Tuesday, March 19, several residents talked with high-level staff at PATH, the service provider contracted for the Inside Safe motel — but they say their work is not done.

“It’s a good start, five months later,” said one of the Inside Safe program’s participants, LJ. He and others at the motel have banded together to demand better conditions at the motel. 

LJ said initially the staff had wanted to “single us out,” by having them meet one at a time. But he successfully urged the staff to let him have other residents in the meeting with him. Other unhoused participants are his “support system,” LJ said.

Unhoused Inside Safe participants, including LJ in the blue jacket, meet at a nearby park to discuss improving conditions at the motel they were put into after their encampment on Juanita Avenue was cleared last October by LA Mayor Karen Bass. Credit: SIKLAB Media

At the meeting, some basic information about the services were provided, including the steps that need to be taken to obtain housing. LJ noted that much of this information should have been provided to them when they first came into the program months ago.

In the meeting, LJ and others were given information about the process for applying for housing, classes that were available to them, and healthcare resources at a nearby clinic. They also discussed setting up a community room at the site, which could potentially allow residents to have visitors. Right now the rules at the site do not allow people to have visitors. 

LJ said he and others will continue to hold the staff and elected officials like LA Mayor Karen Bass accountable, “up until we’re out of there and they have it (the motel) functioning and self-sustaining, and this homelessness issue has been taken care of.”

“But as far as the present moment … it’s hard to be easily satisfied,” LJ said. “If you are (easily satisfied), you’ll fall for anything. Not to say they’re trying to pull a fast one in front of us, [but we’ve] been there, done that.”

Their efforts are being supported by the LA chapter of GABRIELA, a group that typically organizes Filipino women, as well as Anakbayan LA, SIKLAB Media, Malaya Movement, and LA Kalusugan Collective. In videos released as part of the campaign, unhoused residents describe mistreatment and dismissive attitudes by staff toward the challenges they face.

Mutual aid group LA Street Care is also supporting the Inside Safe motel residents.

Some of the support they have been getting as part of the campaign, called Housing for Juanita, include “phone barrages” to elected officials and PATH, and a support letter, written in English and Tagalog, that they are urging members of the public to send to LA Mayor Karen Bass to have “reliable, proactive, consistent and accessible case managers.”

That letter also points to the need for “proper facilities for residents,” including access to medical professionals. 

The campaign’s efforts have also led to a meeting with their City Council member, Hugo Soto-Martinez, who oversees the 13th District where the Inside Safe encampment clearing operation took place in October.

Unhoused Inside Safe participants meet at a nearby park to discuss ways to improve conditions at the motel they were put into, after their encampment on Juanita Avenue was cleared last October by LA Mayor Karen Bass’s office. Credit: SIKLAB Media

In a written statement last Thursday, responding to the unhoused residents’ concerns, Bass’s spokesperson, Zach Seidl, said their office appointed a deputy mayor of homelessness and community health, Etsemaye P. Agonafer. 

Agonafer’s appointment was announced in mid-February. The Housing for Juanita campaign launched just before, in January.

Seidl said that the appointment was meant “to improve and expand health services and care to help grow our comprehensive approach,” he said, and they “continue to provide new services and implement new strategies.”

Seidl’s statement also said that through their Inside Safe program, they took “urgent action to bring Angelenos off dangerous streets and into housing, which has saved lives.”

Representatives of the Housing for Juanita campaign said that the motel residents have faced non-consensual room checks and their belongings thrown out without their consent. They say security at the motel has been antagonistic toward residents, and staff have mocked them. In one of the incidents representatives described, someone on staff mockingly offered meth to one of the motel residents. There are no “detox and treatment services,” one resident told organizers.

LJ said last Tuesday that another issue they brought up during the meeting was the harassment from staff that residents often faced while living at the motel. He said they were able to obtain an apology from staff.

“All they can do is apologize,” he said. “We could use a little more compassion, respect, and dignity. I’m not going to hold them to make sure it’s fixed every single day. But it’s a good start though. We weren’t asking for much.”

In a statement addressing the harassment being reported by residents, Tyler Renner, a spokesperson for PATH, said that “due to confidentiality and privacy rules, we cannot share specifics about our participants.”

“Finally, we have grievance forms available to all participants should they have any concerns or issues with our staff or programming,” he said.

In the last week, residents also faced an abrupt effort by staffers to move people into rooms together. LJ said that they were informed of this on Tuesday night. While staff have now told them this is a voluntary move, LJ said that when they were first informed of it, they felt rushed.

Unhoused Inside Safe participants, including Jayson at center, meet with organizers from the group GABRIELA to discuss challenges and conditions at the motel they were put into after their encampment on Juanita Avenue was cleared last October by LA Mayor Karen Bass’s office. Credit: SIKLAB Media

And some felt pressured to room with others because they were worried their status in the Inside Safe program would be threatened if they didn’t agree to do it, the campaign said. One resident, Jayson, told other campaign organizers that he refused several times, but was still asked multiple times if he could room with others. He added that “they tell each of us something different to manipulate us into [rooming together].”

LJ said that the way “they approached events, they kind of rushed them, pushed them. It was late (in the day) … We were outside for a minute talking to them.”

He said that the approach — “the pressure, the promise” — was similar to how they felt rushed from their encampment on Juanita Avenue into Inside Safe.

Elizabeth has been on the local government beat since 2006, and likes making her friends take public transportation for her birthday.