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Thursday, Jan 26, 2023

Inflection Point on Homelessness

My brother Steven was a vibrant young man growing up – athletic and smart and full of potential. We shared a room and were very close.

Unlike myself, who went to USC and stayed in Los Angeles, Steven moved around a lot as an adult. First, he joined the Army. After he completed his service, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and from there it was job to job, eventually moving to Oregon.

Soon, we would hear less and less from him. It became clear he struggled, possibly with a mental disorder, perhaps with drugs. After many lost jobs and broken relationships, he ended up living on the streets.

My parents and my family took turns taking him in to try to help him get back on his feet. Then he would be off again, disappearing for months, even years – lost somewhere on the streets of Sacramento, San Francisco or who knows where.

Then one day, we got the call. He had been found dead next to his tent.

He was 48.

If you know me, then you know how much I love Los Angeles and Southern California. As an individual, it’s my home; my wife and I have raised our family here. In many ways, this city and region have made me who I am today.

As a business leader, I have had the privilege and opportunity to lead more than 2,500 professionals across an area reaching from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara, even to Hawaii. Every day I get to talk with property developers, investors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, social services leaders and representatives of nonprofit organizations, as well as my colleagues.

During these conversations, I learn what inspires people and companies to move here, what they are looking for in neighborhoods. I gain insights into how our great universities and schools serve as magnets for talent, how our bold ideas and embrace of innovation have transformed industries and attract domestic and international investors to try to get a piece of the action.

I also hear about what drives them away.

The pace of change across our region is faster now than I’ve seen during my 35 years in business and has brought about some unexpected and unwanted consequences: grinding traffic, an overstretched infrastructure, lack of affordable housing and a high cost of living.

But the biggest hole in our boat is the number of homeless living on our streets.

The government has made significant progress on homelessness, and voters have stepped up. In the last few years, Proposition HHH – a $1.2 billion bond to build 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing – was passed, as was Measure H – an increase in sales tax for 10 years to generate $355 million annually, money dedicated to services preventing and ending homelessness.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched his A Bridge Home initiative to get unsheltered homeless individuals housed quickly. The El Pueblo site for homeless individuals will also be opening this fall. Additionally, there have been increases in outreach workers countywide, portable showers and more publicly accessible bathrooms.  

Progress has been made, but it’s going to take bold decisions from bold leaders if we want to make a lasting impact.

Los Angeles is at an inflection point, and it’s time for increased collective and unified action that must include our business community.

Southern California is one of the most innovative and resource-rich parts of the world. The global community looks to our region for ideas and inspiration – there is an opportunity before us to make a change in a way that not only addresses this cruel issue but motivates others to do likewise.

“Solvable”: Homelessness needs SoCal’s ideas and inspiration to change our handling of it.
Next Generation: CBRE put 14 teams of 48 interns on the challenge (left); Suggested Sites: This map indicates the general areas of 14 publicly-owned properties – specific addresses were not made public – CBRE interns identified as potential sites for redevelopment as homeless facilities (right)
Lewis C. Horne

Businesses need to make homelessness a shared corporate responsibility, applying their expertise to help be a part of the solution.

This perspective is why we at CBRE decided to make the challenges of homelessness the focus of our summer internship this year. We wanted to take advantage of these four dozen innovative brains to help us find solutions to this important issue. We asked our interns to leverage our CBRE data intelligence, research and analysis capabilities, as well as the vast experience network and expertise of our professionals.

We partnered with Gensler, the City of Los Angeles and L.A. County, and asked the 14 groups of interns to identify underutilized public sites that might be ideal for redevelopment into housing for the homeless. We also asked them to identify potential public-private partnerships to convert underutilized structures, work on the permitting process and revamp existing homeless shelters.

The interns presented their findings to the newly formed Los Angeles Homeless Alliance, which includes for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

The findings will be used to help educate all of us on how we as businesses with specific areas of erudition can play an essential role in helping the city and county in improving this dire situation.

Looking around the room as the interns presented their findings, I saw incredible resources and intellectual capital. It was hopeful and productive and, most importantly, was happening in real-time.

Whether it’s real estate, technology, research, law, design, construction or you name it, please bring forward whatever you can to this cause – and bring it with intention. Help us plug the hole in our boat.

Every business has a role to play in solving this issue. And let me be clear − this is solvable. Let’s proclaim the collective and interwoven power of individual, citizen and corporate stewardship.

I believe this is our bold path forward in eradicating homelessness, a problem that is very personal to me but affects every one of us – and will inevitably define the next chapter of our incredible region.

Horne is president of downtown-based CBRE Group Inc.’s Southern California, Arizona and Hawaii Division.


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