First published in the Nov. 19 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
On Tuesday, the Burbank City Council unanimously adopted its 2023-2028 homelessness plan, formalizing its intentions to expand services, laying out plans to build the city’s first supportive housing shelter and establishing a new Homeless Advisory Committee.
Homelessness was the biggest issue for city of Los Angeles voters this election cycle, according to polls, and Burbank was no exception. A community survey conducted on the city’s behalf earlier this year showed that homelessness and housing costs dominate residents’ collective mindset.
The homelessness plan is Burbank’s most expansive effort to combat and prevent homelessness so far. “A year ago, one of our big critiques here on the dais was that we didn’t have a detailed homelessness plan. So, I really appreciate the thoroughness of this. I think it covers every single aspect of not just what we have requested, but what the community is asking for,” said Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony during the Tuesday meeting.
The city has made strides over the last few years to combat the homelessness crisis. Between 2020 and 2022, Burbank reduced the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Burbank from 291 to 264, defying trends in the greater Los Angeles area. The city and its service partners did so by employing several programs including rapid rehousing, behavioral and mental health assistance, housing voucher programs and family reunification — all while operating on limited funding.
The homelessness plan establishes several goals, many of which will expand existing strategies, such as outreach, housing and shelter options, data, prevention and mental health and substance abuse services. The city plans to invest efforts into expanding data collection and collaboration with regional agencies to integrate data more effectively with support service providers.
“The city’s methodology consists of a holistic, humane approach in supporting people experiencing homelessness by acknowledging that homelessness is an extremely complex social dilemma that impacts the quality of life in our community,” said Marcos Gonzoles, Burbank housing development manager, in a report.
One reason Burbank has seen a significant decrease in individuals experiencing homelessness is because of its dedicated street team. Partners such as Street Plus, Home Again L.A. and Ascencia identify the needs of homeless individuals on the ground and link them with services throughout the region. Burbank plans to expand the number of service partners to 10 by 2028.
In 2021, the city opened the SAFE Homeless Storage and Navigation Center located at the corner of South Front Street and East Verdugo Avenue. The SAFE is operated by the Salvation Army, which offers people experiencing homelessness a container for storage of personal items and accommodates a small service center where people can sign up for homeless services including housing. The city’s new homelessness plan lays out steps to expand services offered at SAFE.
It also establishes the city’s capability to provide real housing opportunities to the unhoused within city limits. City-owned land at 323 North Front St. or on the corner of Lincoln Street and Victory Place could become the site for Burbank’s first temporary homeless shelter.
In July, the council heard a proposal for a tiny homes village in Burbank. Councilman Bob Frutos pushed the council to reconsider the Front Street location so that individuals living onsite could have easy access to public transit and other services. Because Burbank does not have any homeless shelters, those in urgent need of housing are often relocated to shelters and supportive housing in other municipalities.
“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 in the July meeting.
Burbank needs additional funding to support its expanded homelessness relief efforts. The city has limited resources and a small amount of funding from Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the Los Angeles County Measure H Initiative, a quarter-cent sales tax that was approved by county voters in 2017 to prevent homelessness. Burbank taxpayers contribute an estimated $9 to $11 million to Measure H annually. However, the city has received only about $1 million in Measure H grants since 2017.
While the city has a strong internal homeless working group made up of city departments and augmented by some of its partners, the city did not have an active Homeless Advisory Committee until Tuesday, according to city planners. The council envisions the committee as a community advisory board comprising representatives of the public, people with current or past experience of homeless living, and partnering institutions who meet together to relay information between the groups.
The council will continue to expand its homelessness strategy in accordance with the new plan. They will hear an update on the tiny homes village project early next year.