February 1, 2021
Mayor Eric Garcetti:
Our community has been abandoned and left to die. In the heart of Downtown LA, just blocks from your City Hall office and the forest of gleaming high-rise buildings east of Main Street, lives the most disadvantaged and disregarded population in America, one that is now in dire need of immediate help — poor Black and Brown women in Skid Row, who have consistently been marginalized and excluded from decisions on issues that impact their lives, in particular emergency plans to address homelessness.
Many of our members are unhoused women in Skid Row. We’ve witnessed an explosion of the numbers of women forced to call the sidewalks of Skid Row, home. We see the violence that women suffer on a daily basis, aggravated further by COVID-19. But the most egregious act of violence against women is the lack of housing. Without a permanent place to live, women are exposed to predators; unsafe and unsanitary living conditions; targeting and police harassment; food and water insecurity and; arguably the most spirit-breaking — forcible separation from their families.
You have made many promises over the years to address the housing crisis, once famously declaring, “We are here today to end homelessness.” In 2016 voters in the city passed Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond to add 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing, yet only a handful of the taxpayer-subsidized projects have been completed.
In 2017, the voters of L.A. County passed Measure H, expected to raise $355 million annually over 10 years for homeless services and build around 1,000 apartment units a year, helping unhoused people transition into affordable housing units. Skid Row has not benefited from the increased county sales tax measure.
We wanted to believe that finally, this time, our elected leaders were showing a willingness to address homelessness. Five years later, we are still waiting.
In the meantime, a culture of corruption at City Hall that prompted an ongoing FBI investigation has shed light on the cozy relationship between deep-pocketed developers and city officials desperate for campaign money. In a scandal that brought down a city councilman who was charged with allowing a developer to reduce the number of affordable units in his building in return for donations to his pet charity, funds to alleviate homelessness were misused and did not go towards the needs of the community.
We women watched as you publicly acknowledged that Black women are disproportionately represented in Skid Row, and with this acknowledgment pledged to house 100 women through Project 100. We listened as you promoted Project Room Key as an answer to protect unhoused people against COVID-19, promising 15,000 hotel and motel rooms. Nowhere near that number of unhoused people have been given rooms.
We quickly identified that the highly publicized emergency housing resources, such as Project Room Key, were not available to the vast majority of Skid Row residents informed by consistent outreach, engagement, and data collection. More than three unhoused people in Los Angeles, many of them women, die every day; to make matters worse we are in the midst of one of the deadliest pandemics in US history and entering the coldest and wettest season of the year.
Where is the housing you promised, Mayor Garcetti? Every single woman we interact with in Skid Row wants to know where the housing is and where the money went. You secured funding using the plight and the suffering of unhoused communities, but the resources never made it to our neighborhood.
How many women have you housed a year since 2017? How many Black women have you housed since the pandemic hit, Mr. Mayor? How many women have been housed in Project 100 and how many were Black, indigenous, women of color?
Stop squandering much-needed funds on “soft costs” such as consultants, service providers and other middlemen that have nothing to do with the interests of poor people, in the name of poor people. We gathered information, prior to and during the pandemic on the experience of women in shelters in Skid Row (with a focus on Black and Brown women) — findings that are extremely disturbing. Homelessness is treated as a business, one that doesn’t respect the client. Homelessness does not begin at 9am and end at 5pm.
To protect women during this pandemic the following actions must be taken immediately:
- Prioritize immediate housing solutions for unhoused women, specifically prioritizing Black women;
- Convert all vacant city-owned property into housing that can be used for women and families;
- Ensure state, local and federal resources, including COVID-19 CARES Act dollars are earmarked to emergency and healthcare services for women;
- Provide fully maintained water stations, sanitation units and feminine hygiene products in Skid Row immediately;
- End LAPD homeless outreach and engagement strategies
If you are truly committed to ending the ways in which structural racism, institutional violence and anti-Blackness disadvantages Black women in Skid Row, you will take these essential steps at a minimum to stop harm from continuing.
Given our longstanding history, working with women in Skid Row and all throughout Downtown Los Angeles, DWAC provides essential insight into the needs of houseless women.
Therefore, we urge that you use the recommendations in our 2020 Skid Row Women’s Needs Assessment as a guideline on how to best serve women in our community. Those with lived experience know what they need and have proven solutions that foster self-determination, stress the need for stable housing and do not involve the police at any step of the process. Community involvement is essential for gaining a perspective on what needs to be done to achieve significant results.
Nothing about us without us. There is no way to credibly implement housing and public health solutions without the voices, experience, expertise, and Herstories of women in our communities.
We are on the ground and hear what the needs of women are. To stop the death toll, they need to be met now. If our lives matter, do something to stop them being taken.
The Downtown Women’s Action Coalition (DWAC)