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LA has built 45 shelter beds for the homeless—its goal is 1,500

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From Sherman Oaks to Wilmington, neighborhood opposition keeps mounting

El Pueblo shelter
The El Pueblo shelter in Downtown LA is the first shelter built under the mayor’s emergency housing plan.
Photo by Elijah Chiland

At a community meeting in Sherman Oaks last week, Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu tried to discuss plans for a proposed homeless shelter in the area—but was jeered and booed.

“Recall!” chanted residents, as Ryu stressed that his office has not even decided where in the district a shelter would be constructed.

It’s the latest community to contest proposed shelters through Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” initiative, following Wilmington, San Pedro, and Venice.

Even with construction nearly ready to begin on two new shelters proposed under the mayor’s plan—one in Hollywood and the other at the Westside Veterans Affairs campus— other facilities face intense backlash.

Opponents accuse city officials of rushing through the process of building the shelters, denying community members a chance to weigh in on plans. But homeless advocates say building the emergency shelters quickly is exactly what the city should be doing.

“It is disappointing how long it’s taking,” says Monday Night Mission founder Mel Tillekeratne, who has been pushing city officials to provide safe shelter space through a social media campaign called #SheDoes.

He says that he and other organizers working with the homeless community wanted to see multiple shelters open by this point in the year.

Garcetti announced plans in April to open more than a dozen makeshift housing centers with up to 1,500 beds where some of the nearly 23,000 people living without shelter in the city can stay while awaiting more permanent living arrangements.

So far, only one of those facilities has been completed—a 45-bed shelter comprised of five portable trailers next to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument.

“Mayor Garcetti set a goal of having at least 15 bridge housing facilities open or under construction by the end of the fiscal year, and he remains committed to meeting it,” says Garcetti’s press secretary Alex Comisar.

Officials promised that the El Pueblo shelter, which had been in the works prior to Garcetti’s announcement, would be quickly followed by a similar complex in the heart of Koreatown. But after an outcry from residents, Councilmember Herb Wesson agreed to pursue other shelter sites, including Lafayette Park and the parking lot of his own council office.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Mike Bonin introduced a motion requesting that the city’s Bureau of Engineering begin work on a shelter at the West LA VA campus. Developed in partnership with LA County and the VA, it will serve homeless veterans and is set to include laundry, showers, and on-site supportive services for residents.

Last week, the City Council approved plans for another shelter that will rise in Hollywood, alongside the YMCA on Schrader Boulevard. Featuring 70 beds, it’s set to begin construction next month.

The mayor set aside $20 million for the 15 shelters—or, roughly $1.3 million each—in his 2018-19 budget. Eventually, the City Council added $10 million to that total, and the city wants to get another $45 million in funding from the state, now that it’s clear the shelters will be more expensive than anticipated.

At $5 million, the VA facility will cost about twice as much as the shelter at El Pueblo (which itself ran over budget). David Graham Caso, spokesperson for Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin, tells Curbed that the site needs to be graded before tents and trailers are erected for residents.

That, combined with the size of the shelter, which can accommodate 100 residents at a time, account for the high costs, Caso says.

Tillekeratne says he’s just happy to see plans for a shelter of this size moving forward.

“I wasn’t expecting to see a 100-bed shelter here,” he says. “It’s a location where there are almost no beds available at all.”

Still, he’d like to see more traction on other proposed sites.

“Why are we waiting so long?” he asks. “Anyone who walks more than a block in LA understands this problem is here, and it’s not going anywhere.”

Earlier this month, Garcetti’s deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo, told reporters that city officials are moving forward with 12 shelter sites other than El Pueblo and aim to have 15 sites completed or under construction by July.

Part of achieving that means ensuring that the first shelters built are successful—and that resident fears are alleviated.

“We want neighborhoods to see facilities like these as a benefit,” says Szabo.