LOS ANGELES (CN) – A proposed homeless shelter has divided a community in LA’s Koreatown and the issue came to a head on Friday as the City Council moved the project forward amid a homelessness crisis and affordable-housing shortage throughout the state.
Earlier this week California Gov. Jerry Brown approved a $139 billion budget that includes $4 billion in one-time spending for homeless and mental health services. Of that, $500 million is earmarked for local government programs.
In addition to state money, Los Angeles County voters approved a sales tax last year to fund a homeless initiative.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an estimated 25,000 people sleep on the streets throughout Los Angeles County on any given night. This has officials eyeing at least two dozen emergency shelter sites throughout the city as part of its response to a shortage in affordable housing.
Residents in Koreatown, however, say they were not given the chance to weigh in on a proposal to turn a parking lot in their neighborhood into an emergency shelter.
On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council moved forward with several future crisis shelter space sites – much to the dismay of residents who say they have been ignored by city officials.
Sharon Joung of the Wilshire Community Coalition singled out Councilmember Herb Wesson, whose district includes Koreatown, for moving the project forward.
“Thank you for trying to divide this community,” Joung said during the public comment period of the meeting. “We became stronger than ever.”
Wesson said later in the meeting, “We are sick and tired of people sleeping on the street.” During an impassioned speech, he said he would ask city staff to evaluate several other locations for potential shelter space, including the parking lot of his district office.
“With more dialog we will get more support,” said Wesson. “What I have to do is make sure I communicate with them so they understand exactly what is going on.”
He later added the vote was just the beginning of the process and there will be additional hearings on the topic, where he will answer questions from the public.
But Koreatown resident Jake Jeong said the city has rushed through the process without input from the community.
“Everybody feels the same when it comes to helping the homeless. Do I want to help them? Yes, but the question should be how,” said Jeong. “The next question we should not forget about is how are we going to minimize the negative impacts to the community. You cannot kill somebody to save somebody.”
Pro-shelter advocates applauded the city’s efforts to bring services to the neighborhood, along with a different approach to dealing with the homeless community. In the past, the city’s methods have included policing and fining people who sleep on the street with their belongings.
Los Angeles will also study potential sites for safe parking spaces for those who live in their vehicles.
Koreatown resident Sunhee Choi said through an interpreter, “This is a big issue in Koreatown. I think from the beginning I have felt that the rent has been increasing a lot and a lot of people are potentially homeless. So, I think we need the shelter.”