Armed with grant funding, the Torrance City Council on Tuesday voted to give its temporary housing village another two years of operation, despite concerns expressed by some council members that the project is not finding placement for unhoused individuals at an adequate rate.
Tiny Home Village, a 40-unit complex that provides homeless people access to transitionary housing, is currently authorized for a 12-month pilot period. If the motion had failed to carry, the project would come to an end July 4. The council’s decision extends the village operations to July 2025.
The site is run by Harbor Interfaith Services, a San Pedro nonprofit. Residents are provided three meals a day, access to shower and bathroom facilities, health care, mental health care, job training and other services. Two security guards are onsite 24/7, 365 days per year.
The operating expense for the project is around $1.7 million for the second year and $1.9 million for the third year. The two-year extension is fully-funded with outside sources, so there’s no impact to the city’s general fund, said Deputy City Manager Viet Hoang.
Representatives Maxine Waters and Ted Lieu both supported the project through their community project funding grants. Providence Little Company of Mary in Torrance gifted the city over $1.2 million in donations to support the little village. The rest of the funding will come from the state’s permanent local housing allocation grant, he told the Daily Breeze.
The 3290 Civic Center Drive complex, which opened in July 2022, is a part of the city’s solution to address its homelessness issue. For one, it gave the city the ability to enforce its anti-camping ordinance.
Per the city’s interpretation of Martin v. Boise, the landmark ruling on anti-camping laws, the Police Department cannot force a person who is homeless to move unless they can offer a local shelter bed.
The tiny homes village changed that. As long as there are available units in the temporary housing shelter and the unhoused individual refused to enter the program, police are legally allowed to cite or arrest that person.
During the Tuesday meeting, Torrance Police Chief Jeremiah Hart said the enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance “has not been extremely high,” as beds at the housing village fill up rapidly and unhoused individuals in the city were quick to accept services. There is a long waiting list of people who have applied for the temporary housing village.
The consensus among the majority of the city officials, however, was that more homeless individuals could be on the streets, should the project cease operations.
“Even with a few bumps along the road, it’s been a success. I look at each individual who has been able to move on to permanent housing as a success story. So I’d like to continue to support this program,” said Councilmember Jon Kaji.
Councilmember Sharon Kalani said the project is “efficiently operated.” The costs incurred by the city would be much higher without the program, she said.
“As far as cost, I personally think that it is running very efficiently,” said Kalani. “If I look at the three-year cost of two million dollars and divide that over the 40 units. You are down to about $136 a day per person. Where are you going to be able to go and get that kind of care for an individual in a day?”
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority’s point-in-time survey, there were 306 homeless individuals in Torrance in 2022. Since the 2023 data is not yet available (the organization expects to release it in late spring or early summer), it’s unclear whether the tiny home village had made a significant impact in the pilot year.
However, the city staff said the project has led to some success in placing people into permanent housing.
Since the shelter opened, 14 residents have successfully found permanent housing, said Hoang. Among them, one person was connected with higher level of care, another was linked with permanent housing with a housing voucher, three were reunited with families, and nine have moved into permanent supportive housing.
“The importance of permanent supportive housing is not just providing someone a home. It comes with wraparound services, such as ongoing case management,” Hoang said.
Still, Councilmember Mike Griffiths, who casted the only opposition vote, said the project has failed to meet the majority of the three goals that it sets out to complete, which was that it would be temporary, it would enable the city to enforce its anti-camping laws, and it would permanently house people.
“I really feel like we are failing on two of those areas in that I don’t see this is being temporary,” he said. “At the rate we are housing homeless, it will take 20 years to clear the homeless that we have as far as our camp goes from our city.”
Homelessness is a state-wide and even a country-wide issue, Griffiths said. It’s imperative for the city to “lean on our state and our regional resources” to provide more efficient ways to solve the problem.
Similarly, Councilmember Asam Sheikh raised concerns about the turnover rate. He had suggested the project to continue for only one year, just like Griffiths had, however, Sheikh still voted yes to approve the extension after staff explained it would better position the city to receive additional funding.
“Bottom line for me is we can only house people when permanent housing becomes available, and as most of us know, permanent housing is difficult, even for people who aren’t experiencing homelessness,” said Hoang. “It’s just really expensive to live in Southern California.”