With opposition mounting in Koreatown to a proposed temporary homeless shelter, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said Thursday that he would slow down the process, hold more community meetings and also study an alternative site.
The move is a public setback for Mayor Eric Garcetti’s new program to install temporary or “bridge” homeless shelters in each City Council district. The Koreatown site was the first one identified to be part of the program, with the mayor and Wesson holding a news conference there on May 2 to officially launch the entire “A Bridge Home” program, which Garcetti had made a focal point of his State of the City address in April.
Wesson issued a statement that appears to bow to pressure from the Koreatown activists who had been arguing that the city-owned parking lot was not a proper location for a shelter and that Wesson needed to hold more community meetings and outreach sessions.
The council president vowed to “restart the process” and said he is “committed to holding a review of different sites and community workshops/meetings/gatherings in Koreatown during the summer prior to the City Council taking final action on a temporary housing facility.”
Wesson’s statement said he would consider privately owned lots at 923-937 S. Kenmore Ave. as a shelter site. He also said he would evaluate the city-owned parking lot at 1819 S. Western Ave. to determine if that property is suitable for development as a second — and separate — crisis-and-bridge housing facility, which is outside of Koreatown in Harvard Heights. Safe parking locations for homeless people who sleep in their cars will also be studied in the southern part of the district.
The statement also said that a Council District 10 Commission on Koreatown Homelessness will be formed to offer recommendations on the future long-term use of 682 S. Vermont Ave., which may include senior affordable/supportive housing.
Almost immediately since the May 2 news conference, the proposed shelter was met with heated protests in Koreatown, with opponents holding multiple rallies, starting online petitions and attending a raucous City Council committee meeting last month that was the loudest of any in recent memory, with supporters and opponents of the site shouting at each other in the council chamber and hallways before the Homelessness and Poverty Committee approved the lot as a shelter site.
But despite the opposition, Wesson and Garcetti argued the Koreatown neighborhood has the highest concentration of unsheltered homeless in Wesson’s 10th Council District and that the site was the best option in the area because the city already owned the lot.
Garcetti was asked about the proposed shelter during a news conference last week and he continued to express support for it. Before Wesson’s statement, the City Council had been expected to vote on the issue prior to its summer break next week.
“It’s a site that makes so much sense. It really does,” Garcetti said. “We control it. It’s close to transit and services. It’s in an area where we have tents all around within a block or two. So it helps us deal with the situation. If we walk away from that site, those tents still stay at Sixth and Vermont. Those tents are still there in front of a school.”
He added, “I’ll stay open-eared until the very end. If somebody said there’s an even bigger or better site or something like that, but I don’t want to lose any momentum.”
During a May 24 news conference he called in response to a large protest against the shelter that had shut down Wilshire Boulevard, Wesson said he planned to push forward with the shelter despite any perceived threats to his political future. Wesson’s term is up in 2020 and he cannot run again due to term limits.
“A few days ago I met with one of the opposition leaders who looked me in my face and he said, `Why don’t you think about your future?”’ Wesson said. “I’m not worried about my future. I’ve been blessed. I have a good life. We are fighting for the future of the mother of two that is going to sleep in a doorway or sleep in her car with one eye open so she can keep an eye on her children and make sure that she’s not robbed or raped or worse.”
Garcetti and the City Council have dedicated $20 million for the Bridge Home program in the upcoming fiscal year, and the mayor also said tens of millions more could be available now that the state is providing the city with $85 million in budget surplus money for homeless programs. In particular, Garcetti said that an additional $20 million could be dedicated just for Skid Row, where more that 2,000 homeless people are centered, which is a dollar estimate City Councilman Jose Huizar has said is needed for the neighborhood.
The Bridge Home program would install shelters in the from of trailers or large tents, with 24-hour security and on-site support workers who would offer services and attempt to transition people into permanent supportive housing or drug treatment programs. Each shelter would be designed to hold no more than 100 people, with a goal of housing at least 1,500 by the end of the fiscal year. But the Skid Row plans could push the number of people in the shelters to a much higher degree, although no specific plans in the area have been finalized.
Over the last few years, the number of unsheltered persons experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles increased, rising from an estimated 17,687 in 2015 to 25,237 in 2017 before declining 8 percent in 2018 to 23,114. The total number of homeless, including sheltered and unsheltered individuals, also fell 5 percent in the city this year to 31,516.