Since the pandemic began, hundreds of new homeless encampments have been popping up -- on the sands of Venice Beach, on medians along LA's boulevards, and on the edges of golf courses.
This is all happening despite promises from LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and from county officials back in April to get a lot of people off the streets and into housing to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"It's a failure of the local government to address homelessness like they said they were going to," Allan Parsons, a Venice resident who rides his bike past new encampments in his area everyday, said.
Streets Of Shame
Reports on Los Angeles' homelessness issue
The I-Team met up with Parsons at a new encampment across from world famous Gold's Gym Venice, where two homeless women were wading in a pool set up next to a group of tents. He pointed out new encampments across Venice. In front of the Penmar Golf Course, a year ago there were just a handful of tents. Today, that encampment spans nearly the entire one-mile length of the course.
"Since the pandemic began, the number of tents has grown and also the size of encampments," said Parsons, a software engineer for a major corporation.
LAPD sources, who asked not to be named for fear of losing their jobs, told the I-Team there are several key reasons for the exponential growth of homeless encampments during the pandemic.
First, starting in April, to stem the spread of COVID behind bars, California's jails and prisons began to release 3,500 non-violent inmates out onto the streets.
"All you need to do is drive around the city, not just in Skid Row, but everywhere you can see new encampments that were not there before the pandemic," said Estela Lopez, executive director of LA's Downtown Industrial Business District.
"Skid Row has been a destination for people recently released from County jail when they don't have a home or friends or family to go to," Lopez told the I-Team.
Also, the city of LA stopped enforcing several laws during the pandemic. The city attorney confirms to NBC LA that officials are not enforcing the municipal ordinance that forbids the homeless from having "bulky items" at their tents that could prevent people from passing on the sidewalks. Across LA, it's a common site now to see sofas, refrigerators, and other large furniture outside tents.
"There are people in our neighborhood in wheelchairs, women with baby strollers, who have to walk in the middle of the street because of the encampments," said Venice Neighborhood Council member Vicki Halliday. "It's very, very dangerous."
In response to a questions from the I-Team about increasing homelessness this summer, Mayor Garcetti said that more housing has been built recently, including several "Bridge Home" shelters.
"We’ve been opening a bridge home shelter practically every week in the last few weeks," Garcetti told the I-Team.
But, there are vacancies in some of those shelters. The I-Team obtained documents showing occupancy of the Bridge Home shelter in Venice from mid July to mid August. The 154 bed shelter had 30 vacancies, even though there were hundreds of new tents pitched on the sidewalks just outside the Bridge Home.
"Why aren't these beds being used?" said Venice resident Allan Parson. "To Eric Garcetti, I would say this is anything but a success."
The Mayor's website says when a Bridge Home shelter opens, "The city will establish special enforcement zones to ensure that tents are taken down" during the day. But the I-Team documented hundreds of tents pitched day and night around the shelter.
"They do not allow drugs or alcohol within that facility. So I think a lot of these folks [living in tents] don't want to abide by the rules," said Allan Parsons.
City officials have publicly stated that during the pandemic, no one who is homeless will be moved from their current location, citing CDC guidance, which says moving anyone could help spread COVID.