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LA eyes using convention center as shelter for homeless

November 11, 2020 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles will study the feasibility of using its enormous convention center as a temporary shelter for the increasing number of homeless people living on city streets.

City Councilman Curren Price introduced a motion Tuesday seeking a report on what it would take to transform the 720,000-square-foot (67,000 square meter) LA Convention Center in his downtown district.

The property has not been used for conventions since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the pandemic has forced more people into homelessness, Price said.

With more than 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, encampments have gone up throughout the region on sidewalks, in empty lots and under freeway overpasses.

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“We’re in a panic situation along with a pandemic situation. Folks on the streets are just suffering,” Price told the Los Angeles Times. “We have to do a better job of housing individuals who are homeless.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he supported the feasibility study, though he hoped all city shelters would be used to their full capacity before turning to the convention center for space.

“I want to make sure that we fill that capacity that we have,” Garcetti said. “But the more beds the better, in general.”

All council members are under pressure from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing a lawsuit alleging the city and county have not done enough to get people off the streets. Carter has asked each council member to set a target for the number of new beds they would create in their districts.

Carter has focused on areas near freeways, and Price’s district has one of the largest populations of people living beside a freeway, according to the Times. He said using the convention center would help shelter that group.

Newly elected Councilman Kevin de Leon seconded Price’s motion. He called homelessness a “humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions” and said in a statement that the center could be a refuge for unhoused residents “now facing the long winter months with virtually no access to a warm place to sleep at night.”