When Los Angeles officials were looking to set up a new homeless shelter where residents could have their own space, they decided speed was the priority. For that reason, they declined to build the typical tiny home village in favor of an easier-to-assemble “safe sleeping” tent encampment. At a price of $44,000 per tent, one would hope the site went up pretty fast.
All told, Los Angeles’ East Hollywood encampment, complete with showers, fencing, and staff facilities, cost $4 million to build. The city-contracted nonprofit Urban Alchemy spends another $3 million operating the site each year—with most of the operating expenses going toward 24/7 staffing and catering.
Other cities’ “safe sleeping” sites are similarly expensive.
Supporters of safe camping sites stress the quick set-up times and improved safety, hygiene, and independence they provide occupants compared to unmanaged tent encampments. Nevertheless, delivering some of the benefits of sleeping inside to an open-air parking lot is an inescapably expensive endeavor. Actual buildings are more cost-effective. In all of the aforementioned cities, the yearly costs of renting an average-priced apartment are cheaper than the per-tent costs of a safe camping site.
San Francisco’s yearly per-tent cost of “safe sleeping villages” $34,000
Portland, Oregon’s estimated yearly per-tent cost of running yet-to-be-established, city-sanctioned tent encampments $28,750
San Diego’s high-end per-tent -operating cost estimate for a 400-tent safe sleeping site
“What we found in the early iterations of safe sleep is that some people preferred tents because it gave them a sense of ownership.” —Kirkpatrick Tyler, Urban Alchemy’s chief of government-community affairs, in the Los Angeles Times
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