ILLUSTRATION A cheap, 3-level motel on a palm tree-lined sidewalk in Los Angeles, with a protruding sign that reads TACKY MOTEL

INSIDE SAFE participants sheltered, stressed. Success?! Not yet.

A report from the City Administrative Officer details the current statuses of 1,590 people who entered Inside Safe and most of them seem to still be indoors.

8 min readOct 25


ILLUSTRATION A cartoon version of L.A. Mayor Karen Bass doing a press conference about her motel shelter program, Inside Safe

Inside Safe hotel/motel shelter program participants want to know exactly how long the money and concern are going to last until they are back outside facing violence from police, sweeps, the elements and vigilantes again.

But they also really want people to know that they are so incredibly grateful just for the chance to be able to be indoors, in a dignified accommodation, at least for the time being.

66% of the people who entered Inside Safe are currently sheltered in motels, according to a September CAO report.

ILLUSTRATION A person on a bicycle with several bags and a backpack arriving to an old motel where there’s a large cactus on the sidewalk and palm trees in the distance as the sun is setting

If you’re here for the raw, anonymized CAO data from September on Inside Safe participant statuses, click here for a link to the spreadsheet in my Google Drive.

Pie chart 1,590 Inside Safe Participant Statuses • 81% temporarily housed • 15% unsheltered • 2% permanently housed 2% other (9/23 CAO CPRA)

Here are the statuses of 1,590 Inside Safe participants:


  • 66% Motel shelter program (1,043)
  • 7% TLS Time-limited subsidy (116)
  • 4% “Other interim housing” (68)
  • 2% Tiny homes (27)
  • 2% ABH A bridge home shelter (26)


  • 10% Not connected to services (154)
  • 5% Working with service provider on streets (90)


  • 1% Subsidized housing (Ex: Section 8/Housing choice voucher) (21)
  • 1% PSH Permanent supportive housing (Ex: New HHH units) (17)


  • <1% Incarcerated (9)
  • <1% Deceased (8)
  • <1% Reunified (moved far away) (8)
  • <1% Hospitalized (in a medical or psychiatric facility) (3)

= 100% (1,590)

ILLUSTRATION The interior of a cheap shared motel room that is being used indefinitely as a City homeless shelter. There are two beds with different linens, one unmade, and a nightstand in between them with several decorations. There is some clutter on the floor by the unmade bed and the windows are open.

The good news is good.

81% of Inside Safe participants seem to still be sheltered, with most of them currently in motel programs. Others are in interim housing, tiny homes and A Bridge Home (ABH) shelters.

1,280 of 1,590 people who have entered temporary shelter through Inside Safe are still sheltered (81%).

But it’s still too early to call Inside Safe a success.

In 2020, Project Roomkey proved that it is easy-as-pie to get thousands of unhoused people to accept legitimate, no-strings offers of non-congregate hotel accommodations. People moved into them quickly, directly from the streets and lived in them for months or years at a time, altogether debunking a once-popular theory of “service resistance” amongst homeless people.

Inside Safe duplicated Project Roomkey’s ramp-up by moving over a thousand unsheltered participants into hotels within a matter of months. It was no surprise that rooms filled up just as quickly as they were secured from motel owners.

ILLUSTRATION L.A. Mayor Karen Bass in a green suit giving a press conference

Will Mayor Bass make the same mistake of gradually abandoning Inside Safe participants once the State of Emergency has been lifted? When the motel contracts expired, and the funding dried up, Project Roomkey hotels were evicted and Encampments to Homes participants trickled out of their motels, finding their way back to old “spots” outside. Some ejected participants actually made their way back indoors with Inside Safe, and it’s not clear if the displacement cycle is going to stop here for them or not.

Mayor Bass has insured Inside Safe participants that their invitation to stay is “indefinite”, at least for now, and that’s been a welcome reassurance to many.

Were lessons learned from Project Roomkey, or will failures be repeated?

Disturbingly, it still hasn’t been settled where exactly Inside Safe participants will live when they eventually leave their motels. It’s even worse that Project Roomkey didn’t have to displace anyone because the federal government gave Los Angeles more than enough permanent and emergency housing vouchers to transition everyone out of motels and into homes and apartments.

On 7/1/21, 70,000 federal Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) were released by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) specifically to accommodate sheltered homeless people who would be returning to homelessness when their programs ended. Unfortunately, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (the HACLA) failed to fully seize the opportunity because it could not get enough leases signed quickly enough to qualify for additional vouchers. In January, many EHV holders had their vouchers recaptured. And infuriatingly, hundreds of unleased EHVs expired on 9/30/23.

While the City of Los Angeles has been under a Homelessness State of Emergency and asking for more resources, it has also been squandering thousands of federal vouchers that could be housing homeless families.

ILLUSTRATION A femme with a blue and blue and blonde pixie cut leaving a motel with an orange rolling suitcase, looking wistfully at the building behind her as she walks into the sunset

Municipal program administration means Inside Safe funds can be diverted to other City departments.

It’s very important to understand that Project Roomkey wasn’t a police or sanitation-involved operation, while Inside Safe has had far more LAPD involvement than Mayor Bass originally advertised, with multiple arrests for trespassing occurring at the September Aetna Street operation. There are at least nine total Inside Safe participants incarcerated in jails and three hospitalized in facilities, possibly involuntarily, as of the time of the CAO’s September report.

That’s in addition to eight participants who have sadly passed away and eight who were “reunified” (with family, one would imagine), rivaling the number of people who were permanently housed through federal subsidies (21) and in PSH units (17).

ILLUSTRATION 4-story residential building in Los Angeles with two tents on the sidewalk outside

Inside Safe has been extremely sanitation-heavy, which makes it hard for participants to truly exercise their autonomy. In Project Roomkey, most participants who accepted motel shelters still had communities they could return to, with the exception being the ones who were plucked from Echo Park Lake and placed in the L.A. Grand hotel in downtown L.A. during the March 2021 LAPD raid.

Project Roomkey participants chose hotel/motel rooms when they weren’t forced to relinquish their tents and possessions on video as a condition for receiving accommodations, as they reportedly have been required to do for Inside Safe operations.

Where it goes from here is going to determine whether or not Inside Safe is truly “a success”.

Success isn’t (or shouldn’t be) measured in intakes. Success should be observed through tracking retention in permanent housing placements (renewed leases). So far, Mayor Bass’ Inside Safe has moved 2% of participants into permanent supportive housing or permanently subsidized units and 7% have been moved out of their interim accommodations onto time-limited subsidies (TLS, formerly called RRH, Rapid Re-Housing). When I analyzed the CAO data, I did not count TLS as “permanent housing” because before 2013, HUD didn’t allow people who had been “exited” onto RRH/TLS be counted as “permanently housed” in the context of the Point-in-time Homeless Count. Also, it’s called a “Time-Limited” Subsidy, which is clearly temporary and not permanent.

ILLUSTRATION Urban Alchemy’s CIRCLE unarmed crisis response teams in their black uniforms with green insignia.

My prediction is that L.A. Mayor Karen Bass plans to keep Inside Safe participants sheltered at least until the next Homeless Count is completed in late January 2024, so she can boast about a reduction in unsheltered homelessness in the City of L.A. and end the State of Emergency, declaring it a success. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but it’s top-of-mind for the people currently sheltered inside motels, who feel like they aren’t being communicated with about their fragile futures.

Many Inside Safe participants are now several miles away from where they once lived unsheltered in outdoor public spaces, and most of them have since lost the items they had used to keep themselves and each other alive in extreme weather. Some of them were forced to say things on camera that they did not feel were fair or even truthful in order to secure spaces in motel rooms.

In CD11, some people were forced to relinquish their tents for the promise of rooms that ran out. According to a witness who is also a participant, they did not get their tents backs.

In Van Nuys, one woman had to lie about where she is from in order to get a hotel instead of a tiny home/pallet shelter, according to witness and organizer who were present and engaged with the person. That video was broadcast on Twitter as a testimonial before the Mayor deleted it.

ILLUSTRATION An unhoused young woman with dyed magenta hair, purple sneakers and a purple hoodie sits outside of her aqua-and-orange tent among her possessions as the sun sets behind her

Many sheltered Inside Safe participants report feeling suddenly isolated from communities they never felt like they had to go out of their way to belong to, even if some of them are still in the same buildings as their old neighbors. They’re not technically allowed to knock on each others’ doors or enter rooms other than their own, and there’s no communal spaces for them to hang out like old times.

One Inside Safe participant that I spoke to from the Culver Median operation reports a new difficulty repairing their bicycle to go to work and appointments. They had to order tubes and a patch kit online when they used to be able to ask around and obtain these items easily. In the motel, they have difficulty retrieving their mail from the program operator. They also have invasive “wellness checks” daily, which could be combined with mail deliveries for more efficient program administration that feels less like an unwanted privacy violation.

They joined their local neighborhood council around the time of the Inside Safe operation that moved them into the hotel, but, at the beginning they got transferred around to other hotels that were not even in their neighborhood, which could have stripped them of eligibility for their neighborhood council position.

They miss the small garden they had started and tended to while outdoors. There’s no groups for them to attend or community events to look forward to, and with no timeline to orient themselves to, they wonder if they should be settling in, or if the rug is just going to get pulled out from under them again once they start growing fragile roots.

ILLUSTRATION Couple leaving a motel as the manager sees them off

Graphics Canva

Illustrations Dream AI

©️Ruth roofless




Unhoused in public in L.A.