2nd Letter sent to Council President Herb Wesson regarding the Emergency Homeless Shelter at the proposed site on Hoover & Wilshire on 9/5/18

September 6, 2018

Council President Herb J. Wesson, Jr.

Via Email: councilmember.wesson@lacity.org

Re: FOLLOWING UP ON THE MEETING ON AUGUST 2, 2018

Dear Council President Wesson,

The Wilshire Community Coalition (“WCC”) has held discussion sessons regrding the proposed Homeless Shelters in District 10 with both interested parties and experts on homlessness.  We would like to summarize what was discussed and share with you some of the community’s requests, concerns and questions.

We appreciate you mentioning the importance of communication during your recent radio interview.  We also believe that when we communicate, personally and truthfully, without outside motivations or agendas, we can resolve the issues together even when facing the most difficult questions.  Some of the issues discussed below may not be easy to deal with or discuss, but we believe we can do this by both sides putting forth our greatest efforts.

Location of the New Shelter

Many community members still ask, if there is a better place to serve the homeless and minimize the impact to the community, shouldn’t we consider it?

The City of Los Angeles will spend millions of dollars on District 10’s new homeless shelters, not only for building the shelters, but also operating them.  While some may agree with placing a shelter in the new site at Hoover and Wilshire, some others do not.  They have expressed concerns that the procedural problems that have existed from the beginning of this process, i.e. lack of public input and an incomplete search for what truly is the best site to help the homeless, still exist now.

The City in early May initiated these discussions improperly, by unncessarily creating the adversarial setting that we have been trying to correct for several months.  Yet, there are still fundamental questions to be answered, from the point of view of the homless persons for whom the shelters are being built.  Their safety, their health, their privacy, and their freedom have all been placed at risk due to the failures of existing homeless shelters.  If the new shelters do not address these issues, they, too, will fail.

Learning from Existing Shelters

Many of the homeless population living on the streets today have been refusing to go to existing shelters.  The shelters have empty beds, but those living on the streets still do not want to use them, the reason of which are:

1. Safety.

The existing shelters are not safe.  There have been many reports of physical attacks, sexual assaults, and vandalism.

2. Hygiene.

The existing shelters are not clean.  Poor hygiene has led to the spread of serious illnesses among the homeless population, such as the recent lethal outbreak of Hepatitis A.

3. Privacy.

Existing shelters do not provide private areas for individuals, and little division between beds.

4. Freedom.

Many homeless individuals do not wish to be limited by the rules of a homeless shelter.

Safety

Homeless individulas have complained that existing shelters are unsafe.  If you become homeless and go to a shelter, you are housed with those suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness.  Those living in shelters are forced to sleep in an open space together, leading to attacks and sexual assaults.

If we do not take measures to ensure the new shelters are operated in a much different manner than existing shelters, the same safety issues will be present.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (“LAHSA”) has identified serveral categories of homeless individuals.  These include families with children, adults, youths under 18 years of age, veterans, victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking victims, and individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders, serious mental illness, and physical illness and/or disability.  Each category has become homeless for different reasons, and they each have different needs.

Many community members and experts say that the big picture, as it currently stands, is wrong.  Hundreds of shelters presently accommodate everyone together, without serving the differnet needs of each category of homeless persons.  This has caused the shelters to fail.  The city must embrace a differnet big picture, one that provides different shelters for each category of homelessness.  Otherwise, the homeless population will continue to avoid the new shelters and the new shelters will fail.

We understand the new shelter at El Pueblo now has 3 trailers in each of which 15 homeless persons would be accommodated.  The concern is how the safety of the 15 homeless persons in each trailer can be secured unless there would be security staffs and other experts staying in each trailer 24/7, which may not be practically viable, or even if we do so, would be a very inefficient way of operating the shelter only to unnecessarily waste money.  With the above-suggested change of big picture, each shelter may operate more efficiently while spending less costs.

Rather than attempt to ease these problems after they have occurred, we urge the City to please address these problems before they begin.  The homeless persons say existing shelters are not safe.  We must think about how to designate each category of homeless shelter now, or face the same failures.  We should stop the problems before they begin.

Hygiene

The homeless population has complained of numerous problems with hygiene at existing shelters, such as bed bugs and generally unclean conditions.  Some feel that creating their own accommodations on the street is cleaner than living in a shelter.

In many cases, they are correct.  Many of those living on the streets seek decent, clean, and quiet shelter, like everyone else, but homeless persons have complained that the shelters have failed to provide for these basic needs.

When the proposed shelters open, they will be clean and new.  But when all of the shelters’ new residents move in, they will be placed in an open space together.  Some will keep their areas clean.  Others will not.  Some will be mindful of their personal hygiene, by keeping their clothes clean and taking regular showers.  Some may refuse to do so.  If shelter residents do not keep their areas clean or care for their personal hygiene, the shelters may not be clean enough to live in, like other existing shelters.

This becomes an issue, as there is no way to force individuals to keep the shelters or themselves clean without rules, but this arguably intrudes upon their personal freedom, which has been another reason why the homeless persons have complained about.

Privacy 

Many homeless persons have complained that there is a lack of privacy in existing shelters, and have cited this as one of the reasons why they refuse to live in the shelters.

The new shelters are being designed without individual rooms, likely for safety reasons.  Instead, areas for each individual resident will be separated by shoulder-height dividers, making it easy for residents to see each other while they are sleeping.

Freedom

Many homeless person have expressed their desire for freedom and stated that this is one reason why they continue to live on the streets.  Many have avoided shelters because of shelter rules that they feel restrict their personal freedom.  However, without some rules in place, other shelter residents are exposed to greater risks.

It is our understanding that the new shelters will not have sobriety rules.  According to this approach, while shelter residents may not be allowed to drink alcohol or consume illegal substnces in the shelters, they may do so outside of the shelters and enter shelters while under the influence.  This raises concerns regarding safety, hygiene, and privacy.  While under the influence, shelter residents may become disruptive, aggressive, violent, or confrontational, exposing other shelter residents to noise, attacks, nuisances, and other dangers.  Any security officers assigned to the shelters will be forced to say or do something, and suddenly a rule is in place.

Suggestions and Questions

1. No Response Yet to the Letter Sent by Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council

In mid-July, the Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council sent a formal letter to both you and Mayor Garcetti, raising many questions and making a number of requests regarding the proposed homeless shelters.  As of today’s date, no response has been received.  We hereby request that you respond to this letter as soon as possible, as the community and the press are anxiously awaiting your response.

2. Request for an In-Person Meeting with You

We would ask you please meet with the Wilshire community residents face-to-face for real communications.  The residents of the community would like to sit down with you and discuss their concerns, suggestions, and questions.  They are also anxious to receive an in-person response from you.

We believe that hearing from each other among residents, experts and you would enhance the understanding about the existing plan on the new shelters and enable us to come up with even a better plan together.  Furthermore, having met with you mroe than once, we believe that an in-person meeting with you would be an opportunity for all parties to share their points of view and find a much-needed middle ground.

We are requesting this meeting sooner than later.  Many questions still remain, especially regarding the “big picture” plan for implementing the enw shelters in District 10.  This needs to be discussed as soon as possible.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; if we wait until the current plan is already in motion, it will be costly and difficult to change course or address the problems that will arise.  The issues with existing shelters demonstrate how challenging it can be to fix a problem once it has taken hold.

Based on the above, we suggest that you please allow the community meet with you in-person at least two times in the month of September.

3. Safety Issues

The City’s current approach to homeless shelters is to bring all categories of homeless persons together in a single open space, without considering the special needs of each category.  Many residents and experts on homelessness disagree with this method, and urge the City to designate each shelter, including existing shelters and the new shelters, to serve different categories of homeless persons.

Categorizing shelters will help in better serving homeless persons for their different needs such as job training for those in shelters who are homeless due to economic reasons, drug and alcohol treatment plans for those suffering from substances abuse disorders, and medical care for residents who suffer from physical illenesses and disabilities.

4. Safety, Hygiene, Privacy, and Freedom

We understand that giving each resident separate rooms will create safety concerns.  However, only separating each individual area with shoulder-height walls will create privacy issues, and the new shelter residents will complain.

The hygiene issues in existing shelters are also a serious problem, one that will plague the new shelters if it is not addressed before the shelters are built.

The issue of freedom in shelters is typically not raised by those who became homeless due to economic reasons.  More often, it is a concern voiced by those suffering from substance abuse disorders who wish to be free from restrictions on their consumption.

These are difficult issues that have not been resolved by existing shelters, and will become a problem for the new shelters if they are not addressed now.  The members of the WCC believe that the City should consult experts on homelessness, and may need additional data from existing shelters to formulate a more effective approach.

We would propse that District 10 provide different shelters for the different categories of homeless individuals.  Doing so allows each shelter to address the particular needs of each group, which differ widely from one category to the next.

5. Drop-In Centers

Experts on homelessness have often recommended “drop-in centers” as a means to prevent temporary homelessness from becoming permanent.

There are many individuals who have become homeless solely due to economic reasons (e.g., they became unable to pay rent because they lost their jobs and had nowhere else to go).  In such cases, the longer they get to stay on street, the harder for them to get new jobs to get off the street.  Using drop-in centers, we can help them in making their unfortunate economic situation only temporary, and resolving their financial issues once  new job has been secured.

Drop-in centers are designed to provide housing during this temporary period between jobs.  Residents are given temporary housing for three to nine months while they search for a new job, and they move out once a new job has been secured.  Exprets say this option would help many individuals avoid becoming permanently homeless.

Including drop-in centers as a type of homeless shelter offered by the City could help alleviate the City’s already homeless problem and slow its continued growth.

6. Affordable Housing Projects

Your suggestion on August 2, 2018 included the projects of building affordable housings at both 682 S. Vermont Ave. and 923 S. Kenmore Ave.  The community members want to know more about the details and the timeline you may have.  Many of them expressed their concerns or suspicions that these projects may be delayed or canceled.  It would help in addressing them if you could please share more details about your paln on the projects.

Conclusion

We would like to hear from you whether you have a plan that addresses these concerns, and what your thoughts are on these issues.  The WCC asks that you please consider the issues discussed above and give us your responses thereto as soon as you can.  In particular, we ask tht you please, by September 14, 2018 provide potential dates for at least two in-person meetings between you and the Wilshire Community residents this month.  The meetings will give all parties the opportunity to discuss the issues and work together to come up with the best solution.

Should you have any questions or need additional information, please contact me any time.

Sincerely,

[Signed by]

Chan Yong “Jake” Jeong, Esq.

President of Wilshire Community Coalition

Hear Our Voice!

HOMELESS TENT CAMP IS NOT THE SOLUTION

LA Mayor Garcetti and Councilman Wesson announced the plan to build a Homeless Tent Camp which will NOT HAVE CONTROL OF ALCHOHOL AND DRUGS. It will not only be in the heart of Koreatown, but there are close by MANY SCHOOLS, CHILDREN, ELDER PEDESTRIANS, AND METRO STATION.

Their decision was made with NO INPUT from Koreatown, and NO PUBLIC HEARING is being GRANTED. The neighbors DEMAND a public hearing to discuss (1) why this location is inappropriate and (2) to consider more suitable locations.

Please join and support our community!

Below are relevant sites for more info:
1. Opposing Petition: https://www.change.org/p/mayor-garcetti-lacity-org-stop-city-of-los-angeles-from-building-the-emergency-homeless-shelter-in-koreatown

2. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/No-Shelter-in-Koreatown-624282231257969/

3. Websites:

www.koreatownvoice.com

www.myktown.org

Letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti

June 11, 2018

Attn: Mayor Eric Garcetti
200 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Email: mayor.garcetti@lacity.org; david.e.harrison@lacity.org

Attn: Herb J. Wesson, Jr. City Hall Office
200 North Spring Street, Room 430
Los Angeles, CA 90012
District Office1819 S. Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Email: edw.johnson@lacity.org

Re: Proposed Homeless Shelter at 682 South Vermont

Dear Honorable Mayor Garcetti and Honorable Council President Wesson,

The January 2017 annual homeless census revealed that there are nearly 58,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County. We agree that this is a big community issue. We also agree that it is urgent. Our community has been trying to resolve the homelessness problem for years.  We all agree to the above.

The issue is not about whether we should help, but how we should do it.  As everybody, including Councilman Wesson agrees, there was a procedural issue, in that Councilman Wesson and the City completely failed to have any public input in the procedure of preparing the plan regarding 682 S. Vermont, in direct violation of Constitutional Due Process Rights. In response thereto, on May 22, 2018, the councilmembers at the Homeless & Poverty Committee Meeting stated generally that they thought we needed to proceed with the plan because helping the homeless is an urgent matter, though it recognized a procedural problem.  Again, the discussion of HOW is missing.

None of the councilmembers at the committee meeting discussed anything about HOW.  After discussing only whether, they approved the motion.

The City plans to spend $1.3 million on 682 S. Vermont to allegedly help the homeless, but the facility will only provide 65 beds. 682 S. Vermont provides a small piece of land, approximately 24,600 square feet of space that is unlikely to accommodate the large number of homeless people in the Mid-Wilshire area.  Councilman Wesson said 682 S. Vermont would be the only emergency homeless shelter in City District 10.

This is the plan Councilman Wesson and the City presented as the answer to the question of “How.” We say this is the wrong answer.  But nobody wants to talk about it.

Councilman Wesson himself has said that there are approximately 400 homeless individuals only in Koreatown.  However, according to the 2017 Los Angeles Homeless Count report, prepared by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (“LASHA”), Wilshire Center-Koreatown Neighborhood Council (WCKNC) District has about 368 homeless persons, and in all of City District 10, there are about 1,475 homeless persons, primarily in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw (440 homeless persons) and West Adams-Expo Park areas (435 homeless persons).  Further, about one fourth of WCKNC belongs to City District 13.

682 S. Vermont is located in the opposite direction, near the northeastern tip of City District 10, on the edge of the District’s eastern border. The proposed shelter at 682 S. Vermont will only have 65 beds, after spending $1.3 million, because of the small size of the location.  That’s roughly $20,000 per bed.

Councilman Wesson claims that Koreatown has the largest number of homeless persons in District 10. This turned out to be false, according to the data from LASHA’s 2017 Los Angeles Homeless Count report. In fact, more than 875 of the estimated 1,475 homeless individuals identified in City District 10 are located in the Southern part of District 10, including the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw and West Adams-Expo Park areas. There are far more homeless individuals living near Councilman Wesson’s home and office than in Koreatown. Councilman Wesson owes people an explanation about this “misinformation”.

Even if we assume relying on the “misinformation” was an innocent mistake, it brings a lot of concern and “fear” in the community about the city leaders’ ability to analyze the situation and come up with a solution that will truly help the homeless in District 10.
682 S. Vermont is not the solution. It’s too small to accommodate the more than one thousand homeless people in City District 10. It’s not accessible to the vast majority of homeless individuals in City District 10, who are unlikely to be within walking distance of 682 S. Vermont.  And it’s not close to the areas where most of the homeless population in City District 10 have been found, on the opposite side of the District.
With the same amount of money, $1.3 million, we could get a larger piece of land that is more accessible and more closely located to the majority of homeless individuals staying in District 10.

Mayor Garcetti has stated that he plans to spend $20 million for emergency shelter services, like 682 S. Vermont, across the county. Yet, this $20 million budget will only provide 15 shelters for a total of only 1,500 beds, which the City claims will help tens of thousands of homeless people.  One of these proposed shelters will only have 35 beds. Increased taxes are being collected to raise this money, but, based on the information available, if all of these proposed shelters are planned in the same manner as 682 S. Vermont, the $20 million meant to help the homeless may be wasted.

Councilman Wesson and Mayor Garcetti say they can keep everything clean and safe for the community, suggesting they can maintain control. In fact, they have yet to explain why, over many long years, they could not do anything about Skid Row, which now suffers from a homelessness problem that is totally out of control, and why the pre-existing shelters are not being used by the homeless persons.

Of the 290-plus pages of records disclosed by Councilman Wesson’s office,  there were no records of discussions, inquiries, or consultations with any experts about the failures of existing homeless shelters, or measures the City would take to avoid the same failures. There were no records referencing or considering any real data or analysis, nor any records of any impact analyses or plans to minimize the impact on the neighboring area. There were simply no records that considered safety issues or maintaining safety for the community, nor records of any consultations with local law enforcement. No records showed any real discussion about how to build or operate the shelter.

Should we really call this a plan?  Or the answer to the question of HOW?

This is why people should not stop their discussion of helping homeless people after merely answering the question of WHETHER we should help.  We MUST seriously consider the question of HOW, we MUST look for the real answers thereto, and we MUST genuinely try to help the homeless with a REAL PLAN.

Mayor Garcetti says he understands the “fear” people have, but does not seem to understand where the community’s fears come from. These fears do not come from people’s prejudices or stereotypes about homeless people at all. The fears reasonably center on the City’s ability to keep the homelessness problem under control.

So far, the City has failed to properly run even the simplest shelter. The Korean news media has investigated other existing shelters and discovered that people are refusing to stay in them because they are dirty, bug-infested, and dangerous. One woman complained of being raped twice. Others complained of a complete lack of privacy. The records do not demonstrate any consideration of these and other issues, or plans to address the failings of other shelters. The records disclosed show that no discussion about these and other past failures has occurred, there has been no consideration of why these shelters have failed, and no plans have been made to avoid repeating these failures. The City has based its proposed shelter at 682 S. Vermont on the baseless assumption that if we simply build the shelter, the homeless will stay there. The City’s existing shelters suggest otherwise.

Another fear is that, after spending $1.3 million in District 10 and $20 million in Los Angeles County, the City may end up wasting the money and not really helping homeless people, while only hurting the neighboring areas, as shown by their track record so far.
Based on this fear, our community is offering to help the city.  Strangely, Councilman Wesson and Mayor Garcetti have refused to even discuss it.

We all say homelessness is a big community issue, we all want to help them to get off the street and live their lives, and in the process of helping, we will keep everything under control for the safety of the people. In short, we together have the same goal, but strangely, we cannot discuss it together, try together, or help together, because the City has been refusing to do all of this together.

Rather, Councilman Wesson’s secretary, Ms. Vanessa Rodriguez, provided major media more “misinformation” by stating “a lot of misinformation had been spread in the Korean-language media, which could be partly responsible for the heated opposition.”  Not surprisingly, it turned out to be false again, and Councilman Wesson had to visit Korea Daily’s office to apologize.

In addition, on June 5, 2018, at the entrance to the “Homeless Resolution” workshop prepared under the name of Mayor Garcetti, the security guard had the names of some of WCC members who did RSVP for the event, in order to prevent them from entering the workshop.  Later, Mayor Garcetti’s office tried to justify this by stating the workshop was for only invited guests.  Had it been true, why did the guard not have the list of the invitees, but only WCC member names?  We also know there was at least one person who was not invited but allowed in.

This is so low, low, and low.  It is very unfortunate that Mayor Garcetti and Councilman Wesson are only wasting time and resources in order to avoid sitting together and discussing this together.

We know this is not the only approach. For instance, Councilman Paul Krekorian has reached out to his community in District 2 to let them know he has requested feasibility studies for eight potential shelter sites, and expressed his intention to receive public input before making decisions on the use of city-owned property. Why can’t we do that in District 10?  You want to rush it in helping the homeless?  We agree we need to take action as soon as we can.  However, notwithstanding whether we rush it or not, you MUST do it right, by properly thinking about HOW!

Though you have been aware of this problem for the last six or seven years, it seems strange that you are rushing to implement a multi-million dollar plan without any input from the communities directly affected by it.

I understand that you both may have plans to run for higher offices. We have heard that Mayor Garcetti may be running for President in 2020, and Councilman Wesson may be running for Mayor.  To become bigger leaders in bigger offices, you really need to show good leadership, not whatever you have done to this time regarding 682 S. Vermont.

I am begging both of you, let’s please talk, discuss, try, and resolve this serious and urgent community issue together.  Together, we can do a lot better than the current plans for 682 S. Vermont.

Again, please stay on point.  It’s about HOW, not WHETHER.

 

Jake Jeong
President, Wilshire Community Coalition

180611 Letter to Wesson and Garcetti – signed