Few issues in San Pedro these days can stoke the flames of political and social debate as much as homelessness.
Now, with more than a dozen temporary shelters about to roll out citywide, the debate is reaching a new fever pitch as some residents prepare to gather at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, on San Pedro’s main thoroughfare to raise their voices and signs in protest of the 515 N. Beacon St. site proposed for the San Pedro shelter.
“Find another site,” said one organizer, Gayle Fleury of San Pedro, about the rally’s message.
But the frustration runs deeper than just that, she said, and many are worried that the temporary shelters aren’t being well vetted.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “They’re going by the seat of their pants.”
On Thursday, the issue blew up on a local talk-radio show during which the hosts, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou on KFI, called on the San Pedro community to recall Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino.
“Well, bring it!” a flustered-sounding Buscaino responded during the live phone interview segment.
Earlier, Joanne Rallo, the founder of Saving San Pedro, was interviewed about what she said were growing problems with homelessness and vagrancy in the community.
The hosts, accusing the councilman of dodging their questions about the shelter, compared the situation to an earlier scenario in Koreatown when a similar shelter effort was pushed back.
And then they urged listeners to turn out for Saturday’s rally.
Concern over homelessness has been at a boiling point for some time in San Pedro. Now, as the city’s new temporary shelters are about to roll out, the debate is growing even more bitter.
For San Pedro residents like Bob Milling, those complaining the most appear to be part of a vocal minority.
“Everyone acknowledges the (homeless) crisis in our community and we all know something has to get done,” the muralist and decorative artist said. “And the medicine will be a bitter pill. But we have a problem and we have to fix it.”
Both he and Gayle Fleury operate artist studios located across the street from the proposed shelter site, a Caltrans parking lot at 515 N. Beacon St.
Neither think it’s a particularly good or workable location.
Fleury said the frustration goes deep – and many critics of the way the issue is being handled are not “being heard.”
That’s especially true, she said, concerning suggestions for alternative, more remote sites such as one on Terminal Island that she’s put forth. Efforts to work with the council office on other sites, she said, have been rebuffed or ignored.
“The want us to shut up and go away,” she said of the city officials. “We’re not being heard. There have been no (community-wide) meetings, no town halls. Very little is going out to the public.”
She and other believe that federal property on Terminal Island would provide more than enough room for shelters, a cafeteria and offices for services in what would be a temporary sheltered community. Federal funding also might be available under the McKinney Act, she said.
The 515 N. Beacon St. site, she and other critics say, is close to a preschool, homes and businesses as well as being located across the street from the World Cruise Center and the LA Waterfront that is now being so heavily promoted as a tourist draw.
The rise of homelessness, especially in the past few years, has become a dominant issue as street encampments have become the “new normal” in some parts of the Harbor Area.
A series of court rulings – some the result of lawsuits filed against cities on behalf of the homeless – limits how far local authorities can go in clearing the encampments.
This week, in the latest ruling, a federal appeals court ruled the prosecuting homeless people for sleeping on the streets if there is not sufficient shelter available violates the Constitution.
While Los Angeles and other cities are busy trying to build what’s called “permanent supportive housing” — rental units that include “wrap-around” services — as the long-term solution for homelessness, such housing is costly and will take years to complete.
So how to move individuals off the streets in the meantime has become a pressing concern.
A Bridge Home
An initiative by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti calls for $20 million in city funds to be set aside and shared among the 15 council districts to build these facilities. The council added another $10 million to pay for any additional related expenses.
El Pueblo, the first of the temporary facilities, near downtown’s Olvera Street, will open Monday – but it’s only the beginning.
As he did on the radio show Thursday, Buscaino frequently laments that “what people hate most about homelessness are solutions to homelessness.”
The city, he said, is focused on solutions that he believes voters — by passing both city and county measures to pay for housing for the homeless — support.
The Bridge Home shelters, usually in trailers or large tent-like structures, can house up to 70 people and are meant to be in place for only three years while permanent homes are built.
Buscaino, who represents the Watts-to-Harbor 15th District on the Los Angeles City Council, believes homelessness is a humanitarian issue that can’t be ignored or solved by “shipping them out” as he said one radio show caller suggested.
The Bridge Home shelters will include onsite services, supervision and will allow the homeless to bring their pets and significant others, as well as their belongings that will go into a large box to fit under their cots.
The facilities also won’t force people to leave in the mornings as is the case at other overnight-only shelters. Those who have already been vetted and screened for permanent housing will be placed in the Bridge Home shelters, with the goal of moving them into permanent housing in 90 days, according to the council office.
Milling said he’s not opposed to the idea but would like to see the shelter in San Pedro start small, with fewer residents, as the model is tested.
“Perhaps we should get our feet wet first to see how this will work in the community,” he said. “Dropping in a (full) Bridge Home site right away is a lot to take in.”
People also are skeptical, Milling said, of the “unknowns” but want to see a solution.
“There are a lot of unknown variables,” he said. “Most people want (the issue) solved but they don’t want to have to deal with it.”
‘Vagrancy and crime’
Saving San Pedro which has become a hub of the social-media chatter about homelessness on Facebook, believes the encampments are seriously affecting the port community’s public safety.
“The vagrancy and crime problem have really become dramatic in the last three years,” Rallo told the KFI radio show when she was interviewed Thursday.
She told the hosts that San Pedro has struggled with a loss of police officers and the city’s failure to open the LAPD’s Harbor Division’s new jail due to lack of staffing.
The proposed Beacon Street site — which Buscaino said is still being researched — “adds to the ridiculousness,” Rallo said, as it sits across from the World Cruise Terminal.
“All these tourists are going to come off these ships and walk past this area,” she said. “It’s two blocks away from a preschool, it’s near businesses and about 25 homes. So why is this location being proposed?”
A significant reason is that the park-and-ride lot is government owned, Buscaino said, although it remains unclear whether the state ownership under Caltrans might make the property too complicated to access for the city use.
In the middle
Milling believes most people are either out of the loop and unaware of the ongoing discussions or fall somewhere in the middle of the homelessness debate.
“If (the shelter) is in a low-key spot and its quiet and chill, I think that would be wonderful,” Milling said. “But we need to see where it’s working first we need those answers.
Both he and Fleury will accompany the council office Friday morning, Sept. 7, on a tour of the El Pueblo site to get a better feel for what’s being proposed.
As the process continues, Amber Sheikh Ginsberg of San Pedro, who heads up a working group of neighborhood council representatives, is hoping the community can stay positive in seeking out solutions.
Her group has proposed establishing a citizen’s oversight committee for the Bridge Home shelters, adding in an email that the “stakes are pretty high for the city to get this as right as possible.”
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