District 1 Councilwoman Mary Zendejas. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by 1st District Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

As our country faces a critical point in regard to the health and safety of all people, it is important that we reflect on whether we are doing enough to ensure the well-being of our own communities.

In the case of our city, the answer is we aren’t. Right now, our unhoused neighbors are some of the most vulnerable people in our community and it is critical that we ensure they are protected in the same way we are working to protect our housed neighbors. As a councilwoman who has been on the front lines of decision making, I have worked to keep all of our citizens as safe as possible, including people experiencing homelessness. We have taken some steps forward, but they were meant to be the start of a larger plan.

The city has an opportunity right now to be effective in our fight to end homelessness. As this pandemic rages on, we have millions of dollars in federal and state emergency funding to provide temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness in our community. Currently, the city cannot meet the needs of the 2,034 people experiencing homelessness who were identified in the Point-in-Time Homeless Count this January. With this funding, the city is trying to pass an ordinance that would work with motel owners to incentivize the creation of 500 new emergency housing units by offering a rebate on the city hotel taxes that apply to motels, in exchange for participation in the program.

Not only does this provide our unhoused neighbors with a safe place during this time, but it benefits the city and the business owners who run these motels, since many are sitting empty because of the pandemic. We’d use federal and state funding to cover the cost of the tax rebate, so there’s no cost to the city for providing the incentive.

This plan is achievable and beneficial for our community, as it would help bring hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in to emergency housing, cost less than building new  emergency housing, and could possibly lead to funding being allocated to other programs instead of continued outreach to those for whom conventional sheltering programs have not worked. This plan was developed with the main purpose of providing our unhoused neighbors shelter during this pandemic and is a move in the right direction. If we are able to collaborate with motel owners, we can build this plan out to provide shelter for Long Beach’s unhoused residents beyond the pandemic as it could solve some of the questions of homelessness in Long Beach for the near future.

I understand that this is a big ask of our motel owners but homelessness is a complex, difficult issue that requires complex and creative solutions. There are still many steps that the city needs to take to ensure the safety of our residents experiencing homelessness beyond the next few months. I hope to work with motel owners who have concerns to find solutions that work for the entire community.

There is a plan, there is funding, and most importantly there is a dire need. With a continued rise in COVID-19 cases and the county slowly taking steps to reopen, it is imperative that the city act quickly to ensure the safety of all of the city of Long Beach, especially people who lack a stable home.