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New billboard campaign aims to raise urgency around Los Angeles homelessness

This billboard at the corner of Vine St. and Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, is one of more than a dozen that went up around Los Angeles over the weekend. Out on the street, the real Hollywood can be seen in the distant.
This billboard at the corner of Vine St. and Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, is one of more than a dozen that went up around Los Angeles over the weekend. Out on the street, the real Hollywood can be seen in the distant.
Priska Neely/KPCC

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The corner of Vine St. and Santa Monica Boulevard is busy at noon with people running after the bus or walking to get a quick bite. But some stopped to look up at a new billboard at the corner of the Hollywood intersection.

"It says HOMELESS," said Christopher Hart, who stopped to look, "But it looks like where the Hollywood sign is supposed to be." 

It's one of more than a dozen billboards posted around the city over the weekend, that turn the classic image of the Hollywood sign on the grassy hill on its head.

"When you take an iconic symbol like the Hollywood sign, which is known everywhere in the world, and you replace it with 'HOMELESS,' it makes people think," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which funded the campaign.

The billboards also include the url of a website, which calls the homeless crisis a scandal and calls on city and county officials to take faster, more immediate action.

Weinstein says he hasn't seen enough progress since the passage of Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond to fund construction of housing developments, and Prop H, the quarter cent sales tax to fund homeless services. He wants to see more conversions of motels into shelters, more portable restrooms, and even the use of empty land to set up tent cities (which he says, is not ideal, but better than the street).

"We need to treat this as a natural disaster and basically say that everyone needs to be given assistance as quickly as possible," Weinstein added. 

The AHF has had a mixed role in promoting homeless housing efforts over the years. The organization proposed and financed Measure S, an initiative that would have made constructing new housing more difficult in L.A. That measure was defeated in March. More recently, the foundation has started purchasing buildings – the Madison Hotel on Skid Row and the Sunset 8 Motel in Hollywood – and repurposing them as transitional housing facilities.

Last year, the city approved nine projects for funding with proposition HHH bond money. County officials say 30,000 people have been housed in the past couple year. But, they say ending homelessness will take time and the goal is get people into permanent housing.

"It's not going to happen overnight," L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, told KPCC regarding progress with measure H. "And it's going to take a village, it's going to take all of us doing it."

Sun Jin, 36, sleeps in a tent not far from the corner of Vine and Santa Monica. She says after a number of health problems, she couldn't pay her rent and has been living on the street for a year and a half. 

"I, as a homeless person, I’ve felt what [officials and police] wanted to do is just push us under a rug, and for us to not be seen or heard."

She smiled when she saw the billboard and said she thinks it's a good way to raise awareness. 

"You see the homeless often enough," she said, "but beyond what you see there's a lot more."