LOS ANGELES (CN) – The city of Los Angeles opened its first temporary homeless facility – what some are calling a “pop-up shelter” – downtown on Wednesday, despite pushback from neighbors.
The city’s “A Bridge Home” program – emergency temporary housing – is its answer to the growing homeless crisis and is meant to give people access to services like mental health counseling, food, shelter and other amenities that could eventually make establishing a permanent home more attainable.
But not everyone is on board.
Koreatown neighborhood residents criticized their local councilmember’s suggestion of an empty lot near a school and other businesses for another temporary housing project. The city ultimately chose a different location for that planned shelter. Residents of the beachside Venice neighborhood also objected to plans for a facility there.
The first temporary shelter was built on a triangle of land in downtown Los Angeles flanked by a county jail, Union station, a freeway on-ramp and the tourist-heavy Olvera street.
The housing has been dubbed “El Pueblo Lot 5” in honor of the city’s oldest neighborhood, the nearby El Pueblo de Los Angeles, which settlers founded 237 years ago.
“Today we build on the history of this place,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the opening Wednesday. “As a city where everybody is welcome, where everybody belongs, and a welcoming place for everybody to start their lives over.”
El Pueblo will house just 45 people – 30 men and 15 women – during an interim period, depending on each person’s needs. That could be as simple as getting someone an ID or as involved as providing mental health services. Staff and security will be onsite 24 hours a day, and residents will have access to restrooms, a washer and dryer and even a kennel for their pets.
City officials say the facility will only be in place for three years, with hopes that by that time Los Angeles will build more supportive housing and the select group who initially passed through El Pueblo will be off the streets.
Garcetti said the facility will make the area safer.
“It’s chaos on the streets in too many places,” said Garcetti.
Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes El Pueblo and downtown’s Skid Row, said at the opening the city is not in the business of building shelters.
“But we see that this is such a crisis that we’re stepping up and providing a service that Angelenos desperately need,” he said.
The city has 13 projects underway like El Pueblo and is also considering 50 other sites.
Officials said they are determined to get input from all residents living or working near the proposed facilities.
Edward Flores’ family has been on nearby Olvera Street for over 80 years operating shops and restaurants. As a merchant at the Mexican café, Juanita’s, Flores said in an interview he’s skeptical of the city’s promises.
The facility sits in a former parking lot used by Olvera Street tourists. Flores wondered whether the city would recoup the loss for those businesses. He said the overall goal of housing just a small group of people is too shortsighted.
“We’re not heartless people,” said Flores, referring to the merchants who have expressed doubts about the city’s efforts. “This is a complicated issue. More complicated than the city is willing to tackle.”
Flores has several images on his phone of naked people – presumably homeless – walking through Olvera Street, and he says others have accosted customers. Merchants asked the city for help, but did not expect the “Bridge Home” program.
“There are kids, tourists that are exposed to all that. We’re just skeptical, because the city already had this idea in mind when they approached us,” said Flores.
In 2016, over 70 percent of Los Angeles residents approved a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund construction of supportive housing and homeless services, but other costs associated with the program will come from the city.
An estimated 25,000 people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s most recent count recorded 53,195 people as homeless in the county.
El Pueblo Lot 5 will officially open on Monday.