Members of LA's unhoused community form union, demand changes to Project Roomkey

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Los Angeles County officials said Project Roomkey would help people struggling with homelessness find shelter during the pandemic. Organizers among the county’s unhoused say it was closer to being jailed with poor conditions, bad food and overly controlling rules.

Rather than accept what they call draconian restrictions, some of Los Angeles’ homeless population created United Tenants Against Carceral Housing to demand changes at Project Roomkey sites, and shelters across Los Angeles.

Theo Henderson is a member of the small but still-growing group.

“The resounding claim is that [unhoused people] are resistant to services,” he says.

In fact, according to Henderson, “when unhoused people are accepting the services that are offered, they are made to feel infantilized, they are made to feel like criminals.” Shelters regularly have curfews, rules about prohibited items, and a lack of privacy that residents must accept if they want to stay. Henderson says this misguided mentality is the real problem with shelters and programs like Project Roomkey.