A new storage center allowing people experiencing homelessness to temporarily secure their belongings will open by the end of June, city workers said this week.
The storage facility is planned for a space at 401 S. Front Street and will allow up to 60 people to use roughly 60-gallon containers to store their items. Funding for the development of the facility comes from Measure H, a Los Angeles County sales tax initiative for homelessness services passed in 2017, and federal grants.
City staff members also reported during the homelessness update at the City Council meeting on Tuesday that they are working on a potential site at 322-323 S. Front Street that could be converted to a temporary housing shelter. However, officials have not yet decided what to do with the property.
Burbank has seen less of an increase in its number of unhoused persons compared to the county, representatives added, and dozens of people have been reunified with families or placed in shelter or housing recently. But municipal employees also said that they don’t have enough staff dedicated to homelessness.
“Currently, the staff funds one-half of a staff person for homelessness, and as you can tell, there is no way a 20-hour-a-week person is going to be able to make a dent in achieving all of these tasks,” said Simone McFarland, the city’s assistant director of community development. “We need more help.”
Other municipal groups that work with individuals experiencing homelessness include the Burbank Police Department’s Mental Health Evaluation Team and StreetPlus, an organization with which the city contracts to conduct outreach.
StreetPlus helped 86 people find shelter or reunification with families between April 2019 and January 2021, according to a staff report. The organization also placed 20 individuals in hotel rooms used by Operation Roomkey, a California program that shelters people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
According to the most recent Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, conducted last year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were an estimated 291 homeless individuals — both shelter and unsheltered — in Burbank, an increase from 282 in 2019 and 200 in 2018.
McFarland told council members that Burbank needed an additional homeless services liaison from StreetPlus, which would cost $80,000 annually, and an administrative analysis dedicated to homelessness outreach, which would cost $110,000 annually. The new positions, which city staff will request the City Council approve at a later meeting, would need to be financed by the city’s General Fund.
Councilman Konstantine Anthony, who has said that he has experienced homelessness, said he’d like to see a higher number of reunifications and housed individuals.
“It helps everyone,” he said. “Obviously, anyone living on the street is going to use city services and there’s a financial component to that, of course, but then there’s that human component. … We just can’t not help people. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Anthony also lamented that the city and the nonprofit Burbank Housing Corporation couldn’t move forward with buying the Scott Motel last year, which they considered for use as transitional housing. City employees and the BHC decided against the move after finding the cost of the housing units and services would be too high.
Council members acknowledged the lack of dedicated funding was an issue, with some expressing frustration that Burbank has received relatively little from the county’s Measure H homelessness fund, which is fueled by a sales tax passed in 2017.
Burbank has received nearly $790,000 in Measure H funds from the county, according to a staff report, despite generating between $6 million and $8 million annually for the initiative.
Measure H funds are primarily distributed to regional nonprofits that offer homelessness programs throughout their respective areas, as well as to housing development initiatives.
ENCAMPMENT CLEANUPS ADDRESSED
McFarland also spoke briefly about homeless encampments, a topic over which the city received some criticism on social media in early February after announcing an encampment on Hollywood Way had been cleared.
The city’s social media post also included an email address community members could contact to report a homeless encampment. Several residents thanked Burbank workers for clearing the site, while others expressed concern that the individual at the encampment was simply moved rather than aided.
An ordinance the City Council approved in November 2019 allows the city to clear encampments on public property, according to McFarland, though notice must be provided 10 days in advance and items taken by the city are stored for 90 days.
“I cannot emphasize enough — our goal is to help the homeless with services and at the same time provide a safe and clean environment for our residents,” she told council members.
Homelessness workers also reach out to those at the encampment prior to its removal and attempt to connect them with supportive services, though the city did not have statistics showing how many “abatements” have led to individuals accepting services.
Since July 2020, 14 homeless encampments have been cleared, McFarland said. The city did not track the number of clearings before that date.