LA Floats Idea Of Forcing Hotels To Open Vacant Rooms To Homeless

'Skid Row city limit' sign in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Stephen zeigler

Homelessness is a societal problem without many easy fixes. Sure, it's possible to help a homeless person out here and there, but dealing with the larger issue involves social programs and big-time government spending.

One proposal in Los Angeles, a city with a massive population of homeless people, would see hotels being compelled to open their doors to the homeless if there are vacant rooms.

Los Angeles is full of homeless encampments.

A homeless encampment
Unsplash | Nathan Dumlao

Southern California doesn't have the harsh winter climate of more northern cities, and L.A. has a number of big homeless encampments — not just the traditional Skid Row, but also newer encampments in Venice Beach and elsewhere.

There are more than 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Skid Row in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Jorobeq

With this many homeless people, and an average of 20,000 vacant hotel rooms every single night in the entertainment capital of the world, it lends itself to an interesting proposal.

A union proposed that hotels open their doors to homeless people.

Hotel with 'Hotel' sign
Unsplash | Marten Bjork

Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hospitality workers, has collected enough signatures to propose a measure that'll head to the ballot box in March of 2024: forcing hotels to house homeless people when they have vacant rooms.

The union knows it won't solve the entire crisis.

Skid Row in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | The Erica Chang

"By no means do we think this solves the homelessness crisis," acknowledged Kurt Peterson, Unite Here Local 11's co-president. "But do hotels have a role to play? Of course they do."

How would it work?

Interior of a hotel room
Unsplash | Point3D Commercial Imaging Ltd.

If the measure passes, every single hotel in Los Angeles — even the ultra-fancy ones — would be required to report how many rooms are full and how many are vacant. From there, homeless people would be given vouchers that they could redeem for a room. Hotels would be paid the market rate for their rooms.

Is it a win-win?

A hotel lobby
Unsplash | Oswald Elsaboath

Hotels get paid their market rates for rooms that are otherwise empty and not generating income while homeless people get a roof over their heads. It seems like everyone wins here — but, not unsurprisingly, the initiative has a few detractors.

Hoteliers aren't happy.

Exterior shot of a hotel
Unsplash | Francesca Saraco

"It's insane. It isn't going to solve the problem," said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association. "I wouldn't want my kids around people that I'm not sure about. I wouldn't want to be in an elevator with somebody who's clearly having a mental break."

Even if the measure fails, something has to be done.

Tents on Skid Row, Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Russ Allison Loar

Los Angeles has always had a significant homeless population, but the pandemic really accelerated its growth. Even though social supports are expanding and increasing, it's tough to keep up with a 16% year over year increase in homeless people.

What could the implications be?

Man in Skid Row, Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Theodore Hayes

On the surface, it seems like a good idea. But Los Angeles, of course, generates a lot of income from tourism. Many opponents of the measure say that they're not opposed to better social programs, but have concerns with intermingling homeless people and paying guests at the city's best hotels.

What do you think?

'Skid Row city limit' sign in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Stephen zeigler

We won't see any resolution on this until 2024, when voters will decide if the measure passes. Until then, the debate rages on. Let us know what you think of this proposal in the comments section.