The battle for L.A.'s plan to end homelessness
By Zack Johnston
It’s the city versus its citizens. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city officials are on a mission to end the growing homeless crisis, but some L.A. residents disapprove of how that mission is being carried out.
Earlier this year Mayor Garcetti introduced his Bridge Home initiative, a comprehensive plan to build an emergency shelter in all 15 city council districts. The mayor’s 2018-19 budget allocates $20 million to construct these shelters, and the plan includes additional sanitation services that will go toward areas near the new shelters.
In a unanimous vote on June 29, the L.A. City Council decided to begin assessing possible, city-owned locations for the temporary shelters.
The vote may have been one sided, but the city council chamber certainly wasn’t. Opposition to the council’s action is largely coming from citizens in Koreatown who feel their community is being singled out, and are angry about not getting more time to consider the proposal.
The city council meeting was filled with heated public comments, both opposing and supporting the emergency shelter project, as well as a passionate plea from City Council President Herb Wesson who has been taking direct action to support the mayor’s plan.
“Good people, do you know what’s happening here in L.A.? We are driving past — oh my God, we are driving past homeless people and we’re not seeing them. When that happens, that is the end of our humanity,” Wesson said before the vote.
Wesson, whose district includes Koreatown, agreed to include an alternative location within the neighborhood to be considered as the initial construction process begins. Furthermore, in solidarity with his constituents the councilmember wants the parking lot adjacent to his city district office to also be considered for an emergency shelter.
“I don’t want anybody to ever suggest that I wouldn’t make sacrifices that I’m asking them to make,” Wesson said with fiery passion.
Critics of the city’s plan say they are not necessarily opposed to the shelters themselves, but were concerned that the original Vermont Avenue location was too close to schools and businesses. Some also feel that the community is being shut out of the decision making, and accuse Wesson of lacking transparency on this issue.
“We’re not opposing it just to oppose it. They didn't give us a choice, and time to consider,” Koreatown resident John Kim said to the Los Angeles Times.
Wesson’s plan for the alternative location (a Kenmore Avenue parking lot) to be considered and his pledge to have his district office parking lot considered for a second shelter did little to quell the frustrations. The Bridge Home initiative faces some additional criticism from residents of Venice Beach and Hollywood.
While the opponents of the council’s decision may have left the meeting feeling defeated, the real victims weren’t at the meeting at all. The real losers in this debate were the thousands of homeless Angelinos who slept on the streets or in their cars that night. Even with the full support of the L.A. City Council to begin the construction process, it can be month before any new shelters are up and running.
In these times of conflict, it can seem hopeless to try and make a positive change to our communities, but we must remember that some of the smallest changes can mean a huge difference. Despite the opposition, the city of L.A. is taking action and refusing to back down. While these new temporary shelters are becoming a reality, it is crucial that citizens continue to support services that are already in existence. Whether it be with our time or our resources, homelessness is an issue that can be solved by communities coming together.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, CBS Los Angeles, Lamayor.org