First published in the July 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By Gavin J. Quinton
The Burbank City Council voted unanimously this week to authorize city staff to investigate the feasibility of planning a tiny-homes village or alternative shelter to house the city’s homeless individuals and transition them to permanent housing.
“Our intent is to provide humane, individualized approaches that will help with supportive services and the ability to provide shelter when it is needed,” said Simone McFarland, Burbank’s assistant director of community development, who presented the report to City Council on Tuesday.
The project proposal consists of 27 fenced-in cabins with electricity, heat and air conditioning and personal storage. An overall project timeframe for development is between 18 and 23 months, and the estimated construction costs are $3 million.
The proposed tiny-homes project would allow for as many as 50 individuals to live onsite for three-month durations. Each duration could be extended to six months for an individual who is “working toward bettering themselves and is working to obtain permanent housing.” McFarland said.
The most recent “point-in-time” homeless count, taken in 2020, estimated that 291 homeless individuals were identified in Burbank. That number is now expected to be higher.
Individuals who become homeless in Burbank do not currently receive housing services in the city itself, as there are currently no homeless shelters in Burbank.
Instead, people who are willing are relocated to other cities through city partners such as Street Plus and Ascencia, who deploy street teams to identify people experiencing homelessness. The individuals are then placed in programs such as Project Roomkey or other supportive housing programs based on need, McFarland said.
“Homelessness is a growing regional problem and we can’t rely upon shelter services outside of our city limits. It’s well past time we pull our fair share,” said Councilman Nick Schultz.
City planners originally ruled out a North Front Street location for the tinyhomes village in favor of a North Victory Place site dubbed “Lincoln Yard.”
Despite this, Councilman Bob Frutos pushed the council to reconsider the North Front Street location in the motion to move forward, noting that “Lincoln Yard” is in a higher-crime area. He urged fellow council members to consider the North Front Street location because it is more isolated from Burbank residential areas, has an existing building in place and is closer to public transportation, which could help homeless individuals get jobs.
In response, city planners said that “Lincoln Yard” was favorable for tiny homes, while the North Front Street location was likely best for short-term, congregate-living shelters, a shelter type perceived as less desirable to homeless individuals. Ultimately, both locations were approved for investigation in the final motion.
The tiny-homes proposal was presented to City Council on the heels of a city-wide community survey, which identified homelessness as the largest issue for Burbank residents by a large margin.
“I’m so glad that this report came up the same day that we saw the community survey where the vast majority of our residents are asking for us to get involved and do this,” said Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony.
In that survey, 79% of Burbank residents said that the city has a major responsibility for addressing homelessness, and 46% said they were not at all satisfied with how the city was dealing with the problem.