Long Beach residents stymie plan for shelter; they say it wasn’t about the homeless people
Long Beach officials on Tuesday announced they had halted plans to set up a temporary winter homeless shelter at a community gym after complaints from neighbors.
Those living next to the gym, located in Silverado Park, have insisted this is not a NIMBY issue. They say they don’t want to lose an important community gathering spot in an area of the city where recreational amenities are limited.
City officials had proposed placing 84 beds inside the gym starting this month to accommodate people living on the streets during extremely cold and wet weather. A winter shelter at Community Hospital, which opened in the eastern part of the city late last year, has 81 beds, but they’re already taken, officials said.
Residents who live near Silverado Park — at 32nd Street and Santa Fe Avenue — pushed back on the plan, saying it was unfair for the city to take away a recreational facility in an area without much open space. Neighbors held a rally outside the gym earlier this month and as of Tuesday, more than 1,100 people had signed a Change.org petition asking for officials to reconsider the shelter’s location.
Los Angeles’ scoring system for identifying homeless people most in need of permanent housing ranks Black people and Latinos lower than white people.
Resident Anavelia Valencia questioned during a City Council meeting this month why the city couldn’t find a vacant building for the shelter.
“Let me be clear, this issue has nothing to do with being against the homeless being housed,” Valencia said. “It has everything to do with taking already limited resources away from a community that has already little to no resources.”
The number of unsheltered individuals increased dramatically in Long Beach during the pandemic. The seventh-most-populated city in California has 3,296 people experiencing some level of homelessness, a 62% increase compared with 2020, according to a report published last year.
The nixing of the shelter location comes as Los Angeles is on track to experience its longest cold snap in nearly 20 years. Another winter storm is expected to hit the region, bringing rain, icy temperatures and low-elevation snow this week.
Meteorologists expect Wednesday to be the eighth consecutive day that downtown L.A. hasn’t topped 60 degrees. Temperatures have dipped even lower — often into the 40s — overnight.
On Friday, a person experiencing homelessness in Long Beach died because of exposure to the elements. “We must do more to prevent more of the same during the stormy weeks ahead,” Mayor Rex Richardson and City Manager Tom Modica wrote in a letter to the community.
Richardson, who has said tackling homelessness in the city is a top priority, said Tuesday he would be meeting with neighborhood leaders in the coming weeks as officials considered other possible shelter locations. In an interview with The Times, Richardson said he was proud of the work the city had done to address homelessness, noting that Long Beach had “more shelter capacity right now than we’ve ever had.”
“But we still need to do more,” he said. “And also address the long-term issues like housing that’s affordable for families and making sure that we have permanent supportive housing. We have to keep that long-term lens going as well.”
In the meantime, the city has set up 60 temporary beds for people to stay overnight at the Multi-Service Center, which offers homeless support services during extreme weather. But Richardson added that the location wasn’t a long-term solution since the beds needed to be cleared out for the center’s daytime operations. Officials will continue scouting for another temporary winter shelter, he said.
“We still need more capacity to effectively meet this challenge,” Richardson said.
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