KOREATOWN — Hundreds of people waving and carrying signs marched in Koreatown May 19 to protest a homeless shelter scheduled to be placed in their community.
Their pleas fell on deaf ears as a Los Angeles City Council committee voted May 22 to approve the site on Vermont Boulevard during a raucous early morning meeting attended by hundreds of people who filled the council chamber to capacity.
The Koreatown site is among at least two dozen locations that have been proposed as possible sites for temporary shelters as part of a new citywide program crafted by Mayor Eric Garcetti. But it has received the lion’s share of the focus due to significant opposition that has arisen in the neighborhood since the mayor and Council President Herb Wesson announced the site as a potential location during a May 2 news conference.
Despite the opposition and the outbursts of anger from some community members during the May 22 meeting, the Homelessness and Poverty Committee unanimously approved the city-owned parking lot at 682 S. Vermont Ave. as suitable for development as a crisis and bridge housing facility. The full City Council is expected to consider the site at an upcoming meeting.
“This is an emergency, and this is nothing short of a matter of life and death. And it has taken us way too long to get to this moment,” Councilman Mike Bonin said. “We must act. If people are dying on the street, we do not say wait until we build a hospital before we treat them.”
The overall shelter program was approved by the council on Monday when it finalized the city’s proposed 2018-19 budget, which includes at least $20 million for the “A Bridge Home” initiative and a potential $10 million more that could be used in a variety of ways to support homeless programs.
Some of the opponents of the Koreatown shelter expressed concerns it would attract more homeless people to the neighborhood, while others said a shelter may be necessary in the neighborhood but not at the Vermont Avenue site due to its proximity to schools and key businesses. Others argued the city did not do enough public outreach before Garcetti and Wesson announced the site as the first proposed for the Bridge Home program.
Some supporters of the shelter said the neighborhood is already filled with encampments and could serve as a way to transition the people sleeping on the sidewalks into better conditions.
At least 9,000 people have signed a petition opposing the proposed Koreatown shelter, and at least three protests against it have been held in the neighborhood, including the May 19 march.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, had trouble keeping order at the May 22 meeting. He admonished the crowd on numerous occasions not to yell out or interrupt as he allowed 18 minutes for speakers on each side of the proposal.
The number of homeless in Los Angeles increased in 2017 by 20 percent to over 34,000, according to the results of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, although the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority recently said the numbers in the county were inflated by 2,746, and it is not yet clear how many of those were within the city of Los Angeles.
The shelter program was created after city voters in 2016 approved Measure HHH, a bond initiative expected to raise $1.2 billion for permanent supportive housing over 10 years. But the units take years to approve and build, and the city has not yet opened any HHH-supported units. Garcetti and other supporters say the temporary shelters, which would come in the form of trailers, large tents or safe parking facilities, will help get people off the streets and into a safer environment where homeless advocates will have a better chance of providing them services and transitioning them into supportive housing.
Wesson, who represents the part of Koreatown where the shelter would be located, provided the committee with a fact sheet that said the site was selected based on data showing a high concentration of homeless people living in Koreatown. The sheet also said the site would be open for no more than three years, and would have a round-the-clock presence of police and support staff.
“This is incorrect,” protester Linda McShan told CBS2 May 19 during the protest march. “To come into a community — to say what you’re going to do without getting any type of consensus.”
Ronald Kim, another marcher, told ABC7 News, “Mayor Garcetti should have had basic decency and respect to hold a public hearing so the community could voice its concerns about this proposed shelter.”
A Los Angeles police spokesperson said the was peaceful, with no arrests or problems reported.
The march was held a day after Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson led a rally of about 150 people outside City Hall to deliver the message that they are not going to let up in the fight to ease the homeless situation in Los Angeles.
“We must act. We must act now. We must act today,” Wesson told the crowd.
Councilman Paul Krekorian perhaps summed up the message of the rally best by saying, “To those who want to stand in the way: Sorry. It’s coming. We are going to save our neighbors.”
At least five council members attended the rally outside City Hall.
“I understand fear, and we will confront it, we will not dismiss it,” Garcetti told the crowd. “We will have as many meetings as it takes. But we know the solution, and it is here, next to you on your left, next to you on your right, in front of you, behind you. It’s time for us all to come home.”