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Offering empty hotel rooms to homeless persons may become mandatory. Los Angeles voters will decide.

There are more than 60,000 homeless people and over 20,000 empty hotel rooms on any given night in Los Angeles County.

Offering empty hotel rooms to homeless persons may become mandatory. Los Angeles voters will decide.
Cover Image Source: YouTube/CNN

A heated debate has emerged in Los Angeles over a potential new solution to the city's homelessness issue. Residents of L.A. County will vote in 2024 on a bill that would require all hotels to report vacancies at 2 p.m. every day. After that, the hotels would allow homeless people to stay in those rooms, reports CNN. In Los Angeles County, there are more than 60,000 homeless people on any given night. In addition, there are over 20,000 empty hotel rooms. The union that represents the majority of the city's hotel and restaurant employees, Unite Here Local 11, had proposed the ordinance. It gained enough signatures to get this question of whether to house the homeless in hotels to be on the ballot in March 2024. 



"By no means do we think this solves the homelessness crisis. But do hotels have a role to play ... of course they do," says Kurt Petersen, the union's co-president. If voters approve, each hotel in town will be required to disclose empty rooms and accept guests who are homeless and have a voucher from the city. The market rate for the rooms would be paid to the hotels.

Project RoomKey, a federally funded pandemic-era program that housed more than 10,000 homeless people in more than 30 hotels that volunteered to participate, provided the inspiration for this ordinance. Petersen says that among the ones who will most benefit from the voucher program are "seniors, students, working people." 



More than half of L.A. voters surveyed say addressing homelessness is one of their top concerns. With an annual budget of more than $800 million, the county's homeless services organization provides everything including counts to counseling, shelters to long-term housing. But the number of people who are homeless is still growing, and there are numerous squalid camps in the parks and streets of Los Angeles.

Early in 2020, the number of homeless people in the city increased by 16.1% compared to the same period in the previous year. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the number of senior citizens who are homeless is particularly high in 2022. In a survey conducted in 2020, the organization claimed that though homeless services had been expanded, more people are pushed to homelessness due to "economic conditions and (the) legacy of systemic racism."



The hotel industry has some concerns about this ordinance and many oppose making this a requirement by law. "It's insane. It isn't going to solve the problem," says Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, which represents hotels and other businesses across the north of the city. He is of the opinion that offering rooms to homeless persons in hotels will put off tourists who are visiting Los Angeles. "I wouldn't want my kids around people that I'm not sure about. I wouldn't want to be in an elevator with somebody who's clearly having a mental break," he says. "The idea that you can intermingle homeless folks with paying, normal guests just doesn't work out."

Manoj Patel, a manager at a Motel 6 in eastern Los Angeles County said, "We barely are surviving" after the pandemic and the high gas prices that stymied his bounce back. "Number two: we have to think of the safety of our staff. And number three, we're not professionally or otherwise equipped with any of the supporting mechanisms that the homeless guest would require." Patel added, "We all want to help the homeless, but we don't want to just put a band-aid on it. You're trying to address an issue and creating an even bigger issue. And in the process, you're actually, I think, taking the entire hospitality industry and devastating it." 



The hotel industry has also questioned the motivations of the union stating that the union could always withdraw the proposal. "They want to use it as a negotiating tactic," said Waldman. However, Petersen denied the allegations and said, "We want the hotels to be accountable to the community." Some workers also criticized the hotel industry. Liliana Hernandez, a housekeeper and member of the Unite Here union, told CNN that the hotels were being hypocritical because they neglected the needs of housekeepers during the COVID program. 

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