Inside LA’s storage facility for homeless people

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Every morning, homeless people show up with their possessions at the gates of The Bin. It one of only two places in Los Angeles where those living on the streets can store their property in a secure facility free of charge. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

In the early morning hours, a crowd of people gathers outside of a nondescript building in Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood. They’re all homeless and all looking to find shelter, not for themselves but for their personal possessions, which they keep in everything from plastic bags to shopping carts to suitcases as they wait in the crowd.

They’ve come to The Bin. Operated by the L.A. homeless assistance organization Chrysalis, it’s one of only two storage facilities in Los Angeles where the city’s homeless population can store their property free of charge, whether its a single day or several weeks.

Below, KCRW goes inside The Bin. (Video by Jared Morgan)

“Well, we provide storage options for the homeless population,” says Alex Connedy, the on-site manger for The Bin.” They don’t have any stability, and they are constantly in transition with all of their property. Many times their property is lost and stolen because they have nowhere to keep it safe. So what we provide is an option for them, free of charge, to come and store their personal belongings.”

Those belongings that homeless people carry or wheel in are stored in donated, 60-gallon City of Los Angeles recycling bins, just like the ones Angelinos leave curbside on trash pickup day. At The Bin, one container issued per person. People can stop whatever they want in them as long as its not drugs, firearms or illegal material. They must also make sure they can close the top of their bins completely before handing them over for storage.

Once they register at The Bin, the homeless are given a standard 60 gallon City of Los Angeles recycling container to store their possessions. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

“It is a very  important place for me because I need a place for my clothes,” says Tasha, who doesn’t want her last name used. She comes to The Bin daily to grab a change of clothes before taking a shower at a local shelter.

Tasha says even if a homeless person finds a place to spend the night on Skid Row, like in a temporary shelter, that doesn’t mean there’s a place offered to store their possessions.

” No you can’t keep your clothes at a shelter,” says Tasha. They only allow you to bring in so many bags, you know, like one suitcase, one person, and you can’t keep your things there. If I didn’t have a place for my stuff, I’d be like those people who put their stuff on dollies and shopping carts. I don’t have to do that because I have The Bin.”

The homeless people who come to the storage facility say they’re happy to have a safe place to store their possessions, usually clothes, folded tents, hygiene products and personal documents. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

Once the homeless people pack their bins in an unadorned reception area, workers wheel the containers into an enormous storage room, placing them in long, straight rows until they’re retrieved. There’s enough space for 1,400 bins in the room, plus some shelves for bulk items.

To fit as much into the bins as possible, Alex Connedy says people carefully pack the containers they’re issued, after all they’re packing the essential items they’ll need to face life on the streets.

“It’s their basic, every day necessities. It’s basically their survival kit” says Connedy. “They store their blankets, their tents, their hygiene items, their change of clothes, their pairs of socks. Basically, it’s what they need everyday for them to survive.”

Once the bins are packed, they’re wheeled into an enormous storage facility and placed in long rows until clients retrieve them. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

The issue of what to about homeless people’s belongings has been a controversial one in L.A. for years. City authorities, concerned about blight and public health, have frequently sought to confiscate and destroy unattended possessions left on sidewalks by the homeless. But federal courts have ruled against such actions. The Bin is seen at least a partial solution to the problem of where the homeless puts their property.

A woman is told by LAPD officers to move her belongings. What to do about the homeless and their possessions that pile up on the streets has been a controversial issue in Los Angeles. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

Having a place to store their possessions also helps the homeless look less homeless, which can be important if they’re applying for a job, or just trying to go into a store to buy something. As he packs away his tent and clothes for the day, we meet Charles Davis, who regularly uses The Bin.

 “There are a lot of places in town where you can’t take that stuff in with you,” says Davis. And you indicate you are homeless when you drag all that stuff around with you, so you have to look like you are civil to get back on your feet again.” 

Carol Shelley, who’s lived on the streets for over 30 years, says The Bin is especially appreciated by older homeless women on Skid Row.

“Because we’re women!” says Shelley with a chuckle. “Men can carry more stuff than women can, so it’s better to be here. It’s better to have this. Like when the police mess with you because you have too much stuff, at least you can bring some of it here, and you don’t have to go through all the hassle.”

A homeless couple carefully transfer their clothes and toiletries from the suitcase they use on the streets to a container. The Bin’s manager Alex Connedy says the homeless are very careful when it comes to how they pack their belongings because they’re what they need to survive on the streets. Photo: Saul Gonzalez

The Bin’s work is getting more attention as what to to about L.A.’s homeless population became an ever larger political issue in the city. Prompted by the proliferation of new homeless encampments across Los Angeles, elected officials say they want to spend more money on things like outreach efforts, shelters, and more storage facilities like The Bin.

If the city does help the homeless store their property, The Bin’s manager Alex Connedy says a lesson can be learned from how he and his staff work with their clients, especially when it comes to establishing trust.

“They are handing over their livelihood,” says Connedy. “Its important for them to feel a connection of trust and understanding, and more so than that, though, a feeling of respect for them as human beings.”

A worker at The Bin wheels a storage container to a place where it will be stored for the night. Photo: Saul Gonzalez