Black Mayors Visit Innovative Temporary Housing Complex in LA

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass hosted Black mayors visiting from different parts of the country this past weekend.

Kevin Murray, former California state senator and the president and CEO of the Weingart Center Association points out the fencing security at the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village. Mayors from across the country, including the youngest mayor in America Jaylen Smith (pinstripe suit and red tie) of Earle, Arkansas. Los Angeles, Ca. (Photo by Solomon O. Smith)

By Solomon O. Smith | California Black Media 

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass hosted Black mayors visiting from different parts of the country this past weekend.  

While in L.A., Bass, who declared homelessness her top priority after she was sworn in as mayor, took her guests on a tour of the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village. The development features an innovative design, using modular units, and offers wraparound mental health care and social services. 

Lourdes Castro Ramírez, left, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, center, and chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Hilda L. Solis, left, intorduce members of the African American Mayors Association to the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village in Los Angeles, Ca. (Photo by Solomon O. Smith)

For the mayors, the village provided a model of an affordable, effective and nimble solution to addressing the intersecting mental health and homelessness crises gripping cities around the country, and disproportionately impacting Black communities. 

“Welcome to our African American mayors from around the country. We are very, very happy to welcome you,” Bass said to her guests. 

Staff and business leaders were among the guests that attended the event. 

Mayor Bass introduced two key players instrumental in the creation of the facility: Los Angeles County supervisor Hilda Solis, after whom the complex is named, and former California Assemblymember and Senator, and current  president and CEO of the Weingart Center Association, Kevin Murray.

The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village is one of the Weingart Center’s 15 locations in California designed to address homelessness. Located next to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Los Angeles’ county jail, the village opened in May 2021 with $51 million from pandemic relief funds and $6 million from Los Angeles County discretionary funds, according to Solis. She also pointed to the jail as the reason more facilities like the one named after her.  

“The biggest institutions [jails] that have more people who should be in these types of housing units because they’re big on mental health issues, substance abuse, many were homeless,” said Solis.

The three-story facility was conceived, approved and built in a remarkably swift span of six months due to a combination of prefabricated units, custom made trailers and 60 shipping containers. Modular designs lowered costs per unit from $531,373 down to $245,689. 

Each room is private and includes a television and shower. These items provide a way to allow residents to have personal space and reduce arguments and conflict. There are 232 units, 10 of which are reserved for use by the Los Angeles District attorney’s office and Project 180, a program which seeks to lower recidivism rates.

Site director Chris Castaneda explained that the purpose of the interim housing is to usher residents into permanent housing. The population covers a wide range including the elderly, who make up about 23% and each person has a different set of needs.

“So far we have placed about 25% of our clients into permanent housing,” said Casteneda. “But we’re very happy to have that in the 25% range, which might sound like a small number. But, when you look at all the barriers that we have to work through, it’s pretty good.”

Murray, who is a former chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, led the mayors’ tour and answered questions. He explained the concepts behind many of the facilities spaces, and discussed philosophies leaders and staff ascribe to at the village.

The amenities of the facility are a part of a talking a humanizing approach to addressing homelessness, according to Murray, who guided visitors through safe outdoor areas, views of the living spaces and a dog park. 

The center also includes laundry facilities, on-site kitchen, and parking spaces for residents. There are even veterinary services for pets.

For some staying at the facility, this model has afforded them the opportunity to focus on healing. 

Judith A. Brown’s room was one of the highlights of the tour. Brown is a cancer survivor and says the services and security she found at the center gave her space to recuperate. She is in remission and has grown her hair back and has had visits from her daughter.

“I mean, since I’ve been at the shelter, I’ve concentrated on my health and mental health,” said Brown.

Another resident said he has been in the village for two years and has not received enough help.

Leaders say the village is not designed as a catch-all. So those with more severe medical or mental issues are referred to locations better equipped for them, according to Murray. It costs about $70 to $80 per person, per day to operate. This includes security and case management.

“I think one of the things about homelessness is you need different kinds of houses. I think the biggest flaw in homeless policy right now is the cookie cutter approach,” said Murray. “Certainly, do some of that but you got to look at every site, every neighborhood, every community every city a little bit differently and see what works for them.”

For others the facility is a second chance at life.

Tommy Mitchell, seated, learns that he has just been placed into permanent housing from his counselor. The village provides interim housing, with permanent placement as the end goal. The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village Los Angeles, Ca. (Photo by Solomon O. Smith)

Tommy Mitchell is 67 years old and disabled. He has been at the facility for over three months but was on the street for over two years. A few months ago, he was sleeping in his truck and was robbed by two men who took his money and cut him several times across his stomach. When he was taken to the hospital he was connected to the village where he received help navigating the city’s housing process. On the day of the tour, he received some good news — he qualified for an apartment. His counselor gave him the good news in person.

“This was a blessing. This place really helped me a whole lot,” said Mitchell. This place is a good place if you want help. You follow the steps, do what they ask you and you’ll win.”