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Homeless Crisis Complicates The Economic Recovery Of Historic Olvera Street

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The historic Olvera street, where businesses have been passed down from generation to generation, used to be a thriving business district.

"My father started in 1930 when the street first opened," Valerie Hanley, treasurer of the Olvera Street Merchants Association. "He was a shoeshine boy."

However, after narrowly surviving the pandemic, businesses at Olvera Street are concerned the homeless crisis will complicate their recovery.

"You have that piece of the population that needs help that they're not getting," said Hanley. "And they can act out in front of the visitors and the kids and it's very difficult when that happens because people become afraid of that."

Phuc Le is one of the homeless men struggling to get their lives back on track. 

"My life just fell apart," said Le. "Slowly but surely."

According to Le, said he spent time in prison and has lived on the streets since 2015.

"I got heart disease, among other health issues," he said. "I find it hard to sleep out here."

Councilman Kevin de León — who is running for mayor — is launching a new push with outreach teams around El Pueblo and Olvera Street to get the unhoused indoors and off the streets. The area is in his district, which also includes Skid Row. 

"Folks from all over the city, all over the region, all over the country come to El Pueblo, and to see large homeless encampments, it speaks volumes," de León said. 

The councilman believes there are about 70 people in the immediate area of Olvera Street that need housing, including the encampments on the overpasses. The crisis is complicating the economic situation here. Sources inside of City Hall also said that some of the unhoused are coming from out of state. However, de León and his office are working to get Le and the other homeless housing. 

"El Pueblo was devastated economically like so many small businesses throughout the city," said de León. "I had to step in and provide rent relief so they can keep their businesses still intact."

Olvera Street merchants are relieved to see the efforts and hope the crowds will return.

"Slowly but surely things are slowly coming back," said Hanley. "Unfortunately we are not having external tourism and that's a big chunk of our income."

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