Los Angeles General Hospital to Become Homeless Housing

Proponents say the $250M project is a big step in addressing L.A. homelessness, while giving themselves years to show results

These days the Los Angeles County General Hospital looms over the Eastside as a monument to both Art Deco architectural and public health history. Monolith that the hospital is, sprawling over 1.2 million square feet, it’s become something of a forgotten one and hasn’t seen a patient in 14 years. Soon, however, it could have a new legacy as Los Angeles County prepares to repurpose the facility into homeless and affordable housing and treatment facilities, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Construction is expected to begin in 2024. 

The project will be a $250 million undertaking, utilizing state and local funds to revamp the facility into a “Healthy Village,” with housing, mental and medical healthcare, and social services including arts resources and community activities. This will be further supported by the Restorative Care Village, an 8-acre compound on the grounds dedicated to short-term and permanent housing.

Much of the early prep work involves taking this historical landmark down to its bare bones, and then removing any built-up symptoms of decay. Not to mention ridding the facility of asbestos, upgrading electrical and waterlines, revamping internal infrastructure, just for starters.  

A visual and historical L.A. staple, it’s the largest hospital facility built west of Chicago and, in 1985, according to the LA Conservancy, nearly 1 of every 200 children in the U.S. were born there. The facility was also stronghold for HIV/AIDS crisis response in the 80s and 90s, as well as a site of protest in the 1970s following the sterilization of more than 200 mostly Latino and lower-income women who came to Women’s and Children’s Hospital to give birth.

Frank Villabos, of the design firm Barrio Planners, spoke of the magnitude of meaning entrenched in the building’s history, one that precluded any possibility of tearing the building down and starting from scratch.

“We’ve known for a while that something else had to be done,” he told the Times

In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis to redevelop the site.

“Cementing our commitment to its restoration and reuse can aid in our response to the housing crisis our region is experiencing,” she said in a statement. Just a month before, the state appropriated $50 million for the structural upgrades needed for the hospital. In Solis’ motion, which credits the hospital as “the birthplace of Emergency Medicine,” Solis connected the community’s willingness to address the space as testament to shared values with the hospital’s 150-year-old mission to “serve the County’s most vulnerable residents.” According to Solis’ July statement, the RFP process is scheduled to be released by late 2022 to early 2023.  

The effort to dedicate the space to vulnerable and unhoused people is yet another entry in the county’s continuing experiment in addressing homelessness and the need for change. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rewrote funding guidelines that re-routed money dedicated to addiction and mental health treatment to housing, with voters approving $1.2 billion in housing propositions. However, the approach has been deemed largely inadequate and reductive of the complex factors contributing to homelessness beyond just the availability of space.

Despite all the plans over the years, homelessness has risen unabated. According to the LAHSA’s 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, released in September, 69,144 people were estimated to experience homelessness in LA County, a 4.1 percent rise from 2020. 

In the face of such sobering numbers, the question looms: is the revamping of the Los Angeles County General Hospital a potential step forward? Construction is not expected to be completed until sometime around 2026, so time—lots of it—will tell.

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