Culver City is stepping into a new realm in the fight against homelessness.
The city’s first Safe Sleep site — a designated area that will give up to 40 people experiencing homelessness a sheltered and safe space to rest inside a former parking lot at 10401 Virginia Avenue.
Twenty tents outfitted with beds and other small amenities take up a majority of the repurposed lot, with the flaps left open to foster a welcoming feeling. The outfitting of the tents will be different as seasons move and temperatures change, such as providing a heavy blanket for keeping warm during the winter.
Several important amenities are also provided on-site that, as a whole, will help the site’s occupants live with dignity. Basic necessities like medical care and a place to use the restroom will be provided along with weekly laundry access, three meals per day, and immediate access to supportive service providers. A small area on the site has been fenced off for pets to enjoy, as they are an important part of life for many people experiencing homelessness.
The process to create the space started in January when Culver City announced a Local Homelessness Emergency, with construction beginning on the project the next month. The city partnered with Urban Alchemy — an organization that has helped build similar spaces throughout Los Angeles as well as in San Francisco, Portland, and Austin — to create and maintain the Safe Sleep site.
By creating a place for the unhoused to feel secure and live in a more hygienic manner, Culver City officials hope that this site will help decrease the encampments that residents complain crowd the streets and make them feel unsafe and unaesthetic. Being able to track these people back to an unmoving shelter at the end of the day also has other important benefits.
“Our outreach team can easily follow up with individuals to provide services on a daily or weekly basis,” Culver City Mayor Albert Vera said in his remarks at Wednesday’s ceremony. “They don’t trust the system because they have been wronged so many different times, so we will bring them off the streets and provide them services that we promised them.”
Urban Alchemy’s Kirkpatrick Tyler — who was among the people responsible for the Culver City site — told Westside Voice that it is “space-wise the smallest, but the second or third biggest in terms of innovation.” He noted that the high land cost for such a small space was a potential obstacle, but was something that Culver City’s government was willing to tackle. According to Vera, the project cost approximately $3 Million.
“We told the city, and they were still wanting to move forward with this project,” Tyler said.
The typical stay for people in Safe Spaces is anywhere from 9-12 months, but times can vary widely depending on a person’s circumstances. Patrick says that people are never kicked out of these Safe Space sites, but those who are seen abusing the program will be engaged by staff and providers at the site.
In a significant number of cases, the extent of these stays is mainly dictated by the availability of permanent housing options, Tyler said. In his remarks at the grand opening ceremony Wednesday, Culver City Mayor Albert Vera noted the importance of transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness in the community but acknowledged the importance of building more permanent housing for people.
“We can’t wait three, four, or five years to build supportive housing, we need to do something now,” Vera said. “We need to provide housing, but in the interim, we need to get people off the street in a safe location.”
Representatives from the offices of Congressmembers Sydney Kamlager-Dove and Ted Lieu, and State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas were also present at the ceremony to commend Culver City and Urban Alchemy for the opening of the site. Councilmember Dan O’Brien also attended.
The first occupants of the Safe Sleep site are expected to be moved into their tents sometime in the next several weeks. For more information or to apply, visit the city’s Safe Sleep webpage.
Photo Taken by the Author