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New sites proposed for embattled Koreatown homeless shelter

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A planned shelter on Vermont Avenue has drawn fierce opposition

Koreatown.
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With debate raging over a proposed homeless shelter in the heart of Koreatown, Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson asked city staffers Friday to determine whether two other sites in his district could also be used.

One of those sites is on privately owned land on Kenmore Avenue; the other is the parking lot of Wesson’s own office on Western Avenue, south of Koreatown.

“I don’t want anyone to suggest that I wouldn’t make sacrifices that I ask others to make,” Wesson, who represents the area, said Friday.

Though new sites are now up for consideration, that doesn’t mean a shelter won’t be constructed on a city-owned parking lot near the Wilshire/Vermont Red Line station, as Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti pronounced in May.

That site, which drew fierce opposition from some residents and business owners, is still on the table.

But Wesson’s modified shelter proposal addresses some of the concerns project opponents have raised about the crisis facility, including a lack of community engagement on the part of city officials.

After more than an hour of public comment at Friday’s City Council meeting, Wesson told the crowd gathered at City Hall that a more robust public process would take place as the city considers the proposed shelter sites.

Since Garcetti declared a “shelter crisis” in April, LA officials have been identifying potential locations for around 1,500 new shelter beds to temporarily house some of the city’s 31,516 homeless residents. Sites have been proposed around the city, but none have proven as controversial as the Vermont Avenue location.

Wesson promised that workshops and community meetings on the project would be held throughout the summer.

The councilmember also announced plans to work with religious organizations to find safe places for people living in cars to park, and to create a homelessness coalition focused specifically on the Koreatown area.

Opponents of the Vermont Avenue shelter say the new plan is too little too late. In a full page ad purchased in Friday’s Los Angeles Times, the Wilshire Community Coalition, which has organized multiple protests against the site, argues that city leaders have excluded Koreatown residents from the decision-making process regarding the shelter.

The group is planning a new demonstration opposing the project on Saturday afternoon.

A large crowd of people was also on hand Friday to support plans for a shelter in Koreatown.

“As a Korean immigrant working to end homelessness I understand the angst felt by both sides,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Ko told the council he was pleased with Wesson’s new proposal:

“Both sides should be proud of this result.”

Wesson was more emphatic.

“We’re going to rise up like a tidal wave of hope,” he promised the crowd, amid jeers and applause.