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The Multi-Service Center, which serves homeless residents, in Long Beach. Photo by Asia Morris.

The City Council could begin the process of expanding homeless housing in Long Beach on Tuesday by directing staff to study the possibility of building small, individual “tiny home” shelters.

The recommendation was submitted by Councilman Al Austin, who says that this type of expansion to assist the unhoused residents of Long Beach is long overdue. Austin said that he has been speaking with community advocates and the Health and Human Services Department for over a year to determine whether the recommendation aligns with the city’s future plans.

Tiny home shelters are small housing units that provide basic amenities to those in need. They offer residents a bed, storage space and privacy not found in congregate shelters.

The city could build 25-50 such shelters at the Multi-Service Center, a homeless support facility run by the Health Department that serves as a hub for most homeless services in the city.

“I’d like to look at partnering with faith-based organizations, nonprofits throughout the city to come up with some innovative solutions to get people off the street,” said Austin.

If approved by the council, the city manager and the Long Beach Continuum of Care Partners will have 60 days to report back on the feasibility of acquiring land and funds to support the expansion of the tiny home shelter program.

Data shows that the homeless crisis in Long Beach has been on the rise for the last couple years. Just before the pandemic started in 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report showed that over 580,000 people were counted as homeless nationwide, a 2.2% increase over 2019.

In Long Beach, results from the most recent homeless count in 2020 showed the number of homeless people citywide grew by 7% between 2019 and 2020, from 1,894 to 2,034.

The count showed the number of people experiencing homelessness who were not staying in a shelter grew 24%. There was also a 27% reduction in the number of people staying at a city shelter or transitional housing program between 2019 and 2020, according to the count.

In his recommendation, Austin says unhoused people may be at higher risk of contracting serious illness from COVID-19 due to factors like untreated medical conditions or older age, increasing the urgency to find them shelter.

“It’s a crisis that we cannot ignore,” said Austin.

Austin also said that the city is in a unique situation where it is expected to have funding from the state to use for his proposed expansion. In his January Budget Proposal to the state Legislature, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed $2 billion to address homelessness in California, including $1.5 billion to fund “tiny homes” and other temporary shelter options.

“Ending homelessness continues to be a priority for the city council and we’re asking our health department and our city manager to develop innovative ways to house the unhoused,” said Austin.

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