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L.A. plans a temporary homeless shelter on Koreatown parking lot

L.A. plans a temporary homeless shelter on Koreatown parking lot
Bobby Washington, 60, rests on his bunk Volunteers of America shelter in South Los Angeles, CA April 18, 2018. He says he has been homeless for several years. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti kicked off his $20-million campaign to open new shelters across the city by announcing tentative plans Wednesday for a temporary homeless facility on a city-owned parking lot in the heart of Koreatown.

No details were available. The cost estimate, type of structure and capacity are awaiting engineering reports, although the mayor said he hoped the site could hold at least 65 beds.

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The announcement functioned more as a pep rally for the mayor's drive to open potentially both tent and trailer shelters than as an official launch. It featured City Council President Herb Wesson and dozens of Korean American, Bangladeshi and African American community members, as well as other church and business leaders and residents touting the shelter plan.

The initiative is a sharp departure from the administration's focus on housing construction, as well as an acknowledgment of the city's failure to stanch the spread of squalid encampments and the flow of new residents into homelessness.

Both Garcetti and Wesson emphasized the $20-million drive will not take away from the $1.2-billion fund that voters approved for homeless housing construction, and said the shelters will be part of a "pathway" to permanent homes.

"Housing first is still a guiding principle of our strategy," Garcetti said during the news conference. "Angelenos can't wait for years to get off the street. This is filling the hole in between."

The Koreatown shelter will be a 24-hour facility that allows pets and romantic partners, without any sobriety requirement, and offers services to help people get back on their feet.

"We're not talking about warehouses," Garcetti said.

The development could potentially worsen the notorious parking shortage for Koreatown's vibrant nightlife businesses, but Wesson said there may be room to preserve space for cars.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival tenants group, said using city and commercial land to help homeless people instead of rent vouchers will help save rent-controlled apartments that are keeping the working poor off the streets.

"It's not taking out existing affordable housing," Gross said. "It's exactly what the city should be doing."

The mayor said other possible shelter sites include a lot next to the YMCA in Hollywood and another by the Homeboy Diner outside Chinatown. The first pilot shelter near Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles is set to open with 45 beds in mid-July, officials said.

Garcetti also said he is talking with every council member, starting with Nury Martinez, who represents the northeast Valley, to identify other spots for shelter development.

The shelter initiative is designed to move up to 1,500 homeless people off the streets in the next six months.

Under the plan, which is part of Garcetti's budget proposal, each of the 15 council districts would receive $1.33 million that would be forfeited if a shelter is not developed by the deadline.

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Twitter: @geholland

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