Los Angeles

Inside the Massive Tent That Might Be a Partial Solution to Homelessness in LA

The large, semi-permanent fabric tent in the heart of LA's Skid Row might offer a partial solution to the city's homeless encampments

You see them all over LA: the homeless pitching small camping tents on sidewalks, outside City Hall, under freeway overpasses and along riverbeds.

But it's a different kind of tent that might be key to quickly, and cost effectively, providing shelter for thousands of homeless people.

Developed by a company called Sprung, the heated and air-conditioned tents are the same that can be put up in a hurry to house hurricane victims and others displaced by natural disasters. One of the large, semi-permanent fabric tents sits in the heart of LA's Skid Row. 

"It's affordable, it's quick, it's comfortable," said the Rev. Andy Bales, of the Union Rescue Mission. "This is a disaster. It may be man-made. It may be neglect, but we need to treat it like a natural disaster and move on it immediately."

Bales' organization is behind the Skid Row tent project, which has been visited twice in the last two weeks by White House and other federal officials who say they want to help LA construct more of the huge tents. 

Los Angeles, like other large U.S. cities, has struggled with the issue for years. The homeless population has grown by 16 percent in LA over the last year, according to figures released in June. That increase is illustrated by sprawling encampments near City Hall and other areas in downtown LA, under overpasses and along riverbeds.

Bales gave the NBC4 I-Team a look at the Sprung tent, which will house 120 homeless women starting next month, ahead of the federal officials' visit.


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"They can be put up quickly," he said. "They’re more affordable than regular structures.

"There are innovative ways to address homelessness and we’re not addressing them deeply enough."

LA first opened a Sprung tent structure in Hollywood last April. It provides temporary shelter for about 70 homeless people and cost the city about $3 million. That’s almost three times the $1 million cost of the huge tent put up by the Union Rescue Mission. A second Sprung tent Bridge Home shelter opened in South LA last week. And, Mayor Garcetti’s spokesman Alex Comisar says the city is planning to fund 11 Sprung-like tents.

One problem is that California only has one licensed contractor in the state to construct the Sprung tents. The Rev. Bales says the feds could help LA fast track construction

"They could bring in the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, who I'm certain know how to put these up and we wouldn't be depending on one contractor, Bales told the I-Team.

The city of San Diego already has three Sprung structures in place. City officials said the tents have helped reduce the number of people living on the streets by 6 percent. 

Armyana Medina used to live on LA's Skid Row. She now lives in one of the San Diego Sprung tents.

"This is where I became better," Medina said. "For once I felt like someone truly cared."

Rev. Bales said he is pushing for Mayor Garcetti to help construct 88 more of the tents soon.

"One year from today, we could get 17,000 people off the streets, and that’s with six-month stays and case management," Bales said.

NBC4 asked Garcetti’s office how many of the huge tents, relatively inexpensive to build, the city is constructing. The mayor’s office didn’t answer the question, stating instead, "Our goal is to have 27 Bridge Home shelters open by the end of the fiscal year.]"

It appears that some of these temporary Bridge Home shelters are not tents, but costlier structures.

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