City Atty. Blasts Council Panel’s Action on Housing

August 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

City Attorney Mike Feuer issued a rare rebuke of some of his elected colleagues in Los Angeles Wednesday, decrying a City Council committee action that could lead to the delay or cancellation of an affordable housing complex in Boyle Heights.

Half of the 49 units at the complex would be set aside for the mentally ill or the homeless, and Feuer said more effort should be put into making the project happen.

Feuer, who rarely speaks out in opposition of City Council members, said, “We are in the midst of a homelessness crisis. Every leader, and every community, needs to be part of the solution. If there is any way this project can go forward, it should. My office stands ready to help make that happen.”

The project is being proposed by A Community of Friends, a nonprofit that builds housing for low-income and homeless people and operates 40 supportive housing complexes. The project, called Lorena Plaza, is planned for 3401 E. First St.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday agreed with an appeal filed by the owners of a nearby shopping center, El Mercado de Los Angeles, which argued the project is in need of a phase 2 environmental impact report, in part because of an abandoned oil well on the property. If approved by the full council, the action could delay or cancel the project, and also increase its costs.

Dora Gallo, CEO of A Community of Friends, told the committee she had met with the El Mercado and their representative eight times.

“At the last meeting, in January of this year, they made it very clear to me and my board member that their sole objection to Lorena Plaza is that we are providing housing for people with a mental health disability,” Gallo said.

“Council members, there is no merit to this appeal.”

Citing the oil well and a lack of soil tests by the developer, Councilman Jose Huizar moved that the committee approve the appeal, and none of the other committee members objected. The decision overturned one made by the director of the City Planning Department.

Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, said, “I am extremely sensitive to the way that environmental factors impact the community’s health and quality of life. It is a community that historically has been burdened by the ill effects of heavy industry contamination and pollution.”

Huizar also said the fact the project would help mentally ill or the homeless had no bearing on the decision and defended his record of advocating for affordable housing, including his support of thousands of units of affordable housing in Boyle Heights.

“It’s not about NIMBYism. What’s before us today is about environmental review,” Huizar said.

Donation Drive for the Homeless Sunday in Eagle Rock

August 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Recycled Resources for the Homeless and 14th District Councilmember Jose Huizar will host a sleeping bag donation drive on Sunday at Eagle Rock City Hall.

The nonprofit group is asking for donations of not just sleeping bags, but also underwear, summer clothing and toiletries for both men and women.

The goal is to replenish supplies for the local homeless population, said Recycled Resources Community Relations and Housing Coordinator Monica Alcaraz.

Homelessness in the community has increased, according to Alcaraz, who said they are committed to holding donation drive on an ongoing basis with Huizar’s support.

“We have a good working relations with them [Huizar’s office],” Alcaraz said. “They advocate for us and help find ways to bring services.”

The donation drive is a way that everyone can help those in need because most are from the Northeast L.A. area, Huizar told EGP in an email.

“Studies have shown that people who fall into homelessness tend to remain in the neighborhoods they grew up in or were living in, and that is the case in Northeast LA,” the councilman’s statement pointed out.

“The work of Recycled Resources and the scores of volunteers, residents, and stakeholders who support them are proof that we can make a difference,” Huizar said.

Alcaraz said Huizar’s office wants to hold donation drives at least twice a year, one in the summer and one in winter, to help replenish supplies for the homeless.

“During the summer months, we hand out water and Gatorade … because it has been so hot and people can become dehydrated,” Alcaraz said, explaining some of the seasonal differences in their collection goals.

Recycled Resources is based in Highland Park and provides everyday necessities like toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary napkins and socks to people experiencing homelessness in the Northeast Los Angeles community.

The organization, founded in 2008 by Rebecca Prine, works to create trusting and supportive relationships with people experiencing homelessness.

The group also provides meals at their drop in center located at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park. Showers of Hope, a mobile shower organization for homeless people, provides the opportunity to bathe.

The center also provides information on resources their homeless clients can use to get started on the path to housing, Alcaraz says.

Donations for the current drive can be dropped off today through Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Eagle Rock City Hall, and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Donations can also be dropped off every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

People experiencing homelessness can call or text (323) 999-4816 for information on resources or visit the drop in center at All Saints Episcopal Church, located at 5619 Monte Vista St. Los Angeles, CA 90042.

L.A. Budget to Include $138 Million to Address Homelessness

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Mayor Eric Garcetti Wednesday unveiled an $8.75 billion spending plan for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, setting aside about $138 million to address homelessness.

The plan is 2 percent, or $175 million, bigger than the current year’s budget, with about $5.6 billion coming from the general fund. The budget also sets aside $322 million for the reserve fund.

The budget contains more funding for homeless programs than in previous years and responds to a call by city leaders last year to dedicate more city funds to address the tens of thousands of people living on the streets of Los Angeles.

Nearly half of the money being proposed for homelessness – about $64.7 million – would come from the general fund, plus $6.4 million from special accounts, under Garcetti’s plan.

Much of this funding would go directly to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the primary provider of housing and services for the homeless in the county. Some funds would pay for “smart teams” in the Los Angeles Police Department that are trained in dealing with people with mental illness, and for “hope teams” that will be deployed to remove encampments and
refer homeless individuals to services.

City officials said this chunk of the homeless funding comes from “one-time” money, and an ongoing source would be necessary. Garcetti proposed in his state of the city last week asking voters for more funding.

Garcetti is proposing to come up with the rest of the $138 million for homelessness by charging development fees on projects – which would generate $20 million – and by selling off or converting into affordable housing about $47 million worth of city-owned property.

The remaining funding would go into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which could then be used to build housing for the homeless, though not necessarily by the upcoming year.

The spending plan also includes $8.2 million for street cleaning, $14.8 million to maintain the police force at 10,000 officers and $17.3 million to hire and train an additional 230 officers.

The proposal also calls for expanding the civilian city workforce by 500 people, part of a larger agreement with city employee unions to hire 5,000 new people over the next three years. The new positions would be created in the Bureau of Sanitation, Los Angeles Police Department, Building and Safety and General Services departments.

The release of Garcetti’s spending plan starts a budget hearing process, with the City Council expected to review its details and make recommendations over the next few weeks.

Grand Jury: Plans for Homeless ‘Grossly Inadequate’

January 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

City and county agencies need to do more to help the thousands of people in the Los Angeles area who lack shelter during this winter’s El Nino storms, the county’s civil grand jury concluded in a report released Wednesday.

The panel’s report says plans submitted last fall by the area’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, are “unconscionable and grossly inadequate” in sheltering those who are forced to live on the streets.
The grand jury is “very concerned that the 2,772 shelter and surge capacity beds planned by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is just a fraction of the number necessary to shelter homeless people in severe weather,” the report states.

The panel recommended that the county and its 88 cities relax building and health codes to make more facilities available to shelter people who are homeless. It also suggested that funds be made available for supplies and equipment that give “minimal sheltering for homeless people who cannot be accommodated in shelters so that they might survive the rainstorms to come.”

The grand jury sent out surveys asking cities to detail their El Nino preparation plans, with Los Angeles responding that the city has 25,686 people who are homeless, 17,687 of whom are without shelter. There were 2,239 beds available in the city at the time of the survey, which needed to be submitted in November, according to the report.

Other cities were also surveyed, including Lancaster, Long Beach, Burbank, West Covina and Pasadena.
The greater Los Angeles area has an estimated 44,000 homeless people.

Vicki Curry, spokeswoman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said the report “underscores” the mayor’s own concerns and he will “take its recommendations into consideration as the city continues to address the needs of our homeless residents during these harsh winter months.”

The city recently increased the number of shelter beds by 50 percent and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has create a map of homeless encampments that can be used during the storms, Curry said.

City and county officials said Wednesday they are focused on doing outreach to encourage people living on the streets — whether in cars, makeshift structures or tents — to use additional shelters that were made available in anticipation of the heavy rains.

County officials said there are 2,000 winter shelters, plus another 1,131 beds at seven additional shelters.

Despite the outreach efforts, the majority of the added beds are still available, according to county officials.

If there is a need to accommodate more people, more city and county buildings, such as recreation and parks facilities, can be converted into shelters, officials said.

Commerce Opts-In for the 2016 Homeless Count

January 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Commerce City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution to participate in the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count taking place Jan. 26 to Jan. 28.

The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA)—a City and County of Los Angeles joint power authority formed to address homelessness—is diligently working on its annual homeless count in the City and County of Los Angeles.

Lea este artículo en Español: Commerce Opta por Inclusión en Conteo de Personas Sin Hogar 2016

In 2009, LAHSA expanded its Opt-In provision to allow more local cities and communities to coordinate homeless counts within their borders using local volunteers from public and private agencies. In 2015, 248 cities and communities—including neighborhood councils—enumerated all of their census tracts.

This year, about 126 cities and communities —including Bell Gardens, Monterey Park, East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and Northeast Los Angeles — have signed up to take part, according to Kimberly Barnette, LAHSA regional coordinator.

She told EGP they are still working on getting the cities of Montebello and Vernon to join the massive effort.

The Opt-In Program makes it possible for LAHSA, with a high level of confidence, to obtain specific data and totals on the homeless population in every census tract in a city or neighborhood, according to LAHSA spokesperson Naomi Goldman.

“Participation allows jurisdictions to access the methodology of the 2016 Homeless Count to obtain a Point-In-Time Count estimate of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless population,” she told EGP via email. “Opting-in allows cities, neighborhoods and communities to understand the situation, bring resources to local communities and drive civic engagement.”

Barnette—who made a power presentation about LAHSA’s homeless count to the Commerce Council Tuesday—said they have already identified hot spots for homelessness, some of those areas are near Rosewood Park and Atlantic and Washington Boulevards.

Locaciones identificadas donde se congregan desamparados en Commerce y ciudades vecinas. (LAHSA)

Locaciones identificadas donde se congregan desamparados en Commerce y ciudades vecinas. (LAHSA)

In 2015, LAHSA identified over 44,000 homeless living in the Los Angeles regions. Those numbers do not include Long Beach, Pasadena or Glendale.

During the last homeless count, LAHSA identified 52 homeless in Commerce, all of them adults; 20 living in campers, 15 in vans and cars, 9 on the street, 6 in encampments and 2 living in tents.

Over the past two years, Commerce has made assisting the homeless a priority, said Matthew Rodriguez, director of public safety and community services with Commerce.

“We have reached out to as many as possible and have had success with placement in local shelters,” he told EGP, explaining that outreach is conducted through the city’s Social Services Department.

According to Rodriguez, staff refers the city’s homeless to the Salvation Army’s 70-bed shelter in nearby Bell or connect them to the People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) agency in Los Angeles.

Councilwoman Tina Baca del Rio, however, said she is worried that the homeless people in Commerce may not want help because they have found a way of living by earning easy money.

“Panhandling has become a way of life [in Commerce]…[homeless people] say they get a lot of money from people that go to casinos,” she said, asking Barnette to have LAHSA look into that issue.

“Maybe they can get more services instead of relying on panhandling,” she said.

By opting in, Commerce will be responsible for counting all the unsheltered homeless people in the agreed-upon census tracts. They also need to find a deployment site, select a site coordinator and recruit volunteers.

Rodriguez told EGP Commerce has already taken care of almost everything, but are still in need of more volunteers. He said Commerce residents interested in helping can sign up with the Public Safety and Community Services Department located inside City Hall.

Along with volunteers, about 15 city staff and Sheriff deputies will take part in the count, said Rodriguez.

“There are some areas where we don’t want to send volunteers, so it’s better if the officers go there,” he added.

While Commerce has participated the past three years in the homeless count, this time is different, City Administrator Jorge Rifa told EGP.

“Previously, this was under the aegis of the regional Gateway Council of Governments (COG),” a more local and informal count, he said. “During this time period the process has become more formalized and at least for Commerce a much more accurate and thorough process.”

LAHSA expects to deploy about 6,000 volunteers during the three-day count in the city and county.

Since 2005, LAHSA has coordinated six biennial homeless counts, however, starting 2016 the count will occur annually, according to the agency’s website.

For those interested in volunteering or to obtain more information about the 2016 homeless count visit, www.theycountwillyou.com.

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

The Stories That Made Headlines In 2015

December 31, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The count down has started: Out with the old and in with the new!
Well, not quite.
2015 may be coming to a close but some of the stories that repeatedly made our headlines this year are sure to be back in 2016; some with a vengeance.
From the Exide toxic pollution scandal to the threat of El Nino, to the growing number of homeless, rising rents and crime numbers, the battle to close the 710 to 210 transportation gap and demands for higher wages, EGP predicts these issues will continue to grab headlines in 2016.
Not because movement on the stories are at a standstill, but because they continue to evolve.
Economists say more people are working and the economy has recovered, but there’s also an increasing amount of data showing many more people are now homeless and fewer people are able to buy a home or afford skyrocketing rents.

Exide Contamination Scandal
No story on our pages received more coverage than the battle by local residents and environmental justice activists to shut down Vernon-based Exide Technologies.
After years of hazardous waste violations, residents in East and Southeast communities in March rejoiced at the news that Exide – a lead-acid, battery recycler – would finally be closed permanently. In order to avoid federal criminal prosecution, the company agreed to close down permanently and pay millions of dollars in fines and for the cleanup of facility and any properties in surrounding areas contaminated by its emissions.
What’s Next: Testing and cleanup of properties in the surrounding communities of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood and Commerce is still underway by the Department of Toxic Substances Control. Up to 10,000 homes may require decontamination. A community advisory committee is “overseeing” the process, including the removal and transportation of the tainted soil to another location.

 A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control collect samples of dirt for testing. (EGP photo archives)

Crime In Northeast Los Angeles
Also making multiple headlines in 2015 was the gang war in Northeast Los Angeles that resulted in numerous shootings and widespread fear in the community.
Los Angeles police from the Northeast Division attended a community meeting earlier in the year where they told residents that the LAPD had increased patrols and stepped up enforcement of gang injunctions to get control of the street violence.
The gang violence did quiet down, but other violent crimes, including the murder of two young girls whose bodies were found in Debs Park, multiple stabbing attacks and gentrifying Figueroa Street took its place in the headlines. Hit-and-run deaths also increased, heating up the war over bike lanes, which advocates claim are the best way to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety. Opponents dispute their claim, saying bike lanes will not stop someone from driving under the influence or taking off when they hit someone. They also say the bike lanes will just create more traffic jams and decrease valuable street parking.
What’s Next: Bicycle activists say they will continue to pressure the local Councilman, Gil Cedillo, and the city of Los Angeles to adopt their “road diet” plan in Highland Park. Cedillo has proposed other strategies, such as adding more traffic lights and signs in the area. The battle will continue.

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

A vigil is held for a victim of a hit-and-run in Highland Park. (EGP photo archives)

The Homeless Crisis
Throughout 2015, the city and county of Los Angeles have continued to report growing numbers of homeless and to talk about the need to spend millions of dollars to increase transitional and permanent housing and mental health services.
Residents in several communities have complained that homelessness is a problem in their neighborhood and have called on local officials to move transients — forcibly is necessary – out of their neighborhood.
While some point to the homeless as the blame for an increase crime, health and unsanitary conditions, blight and a host of other problems, advocates for the homeless fought efforts to criminalize the homeless and pushed for more services to assist them.
More than 25,000 people are homeless within the city of Los Angeles, according to the latest 2015 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Countywide, homelessness has risen 12 percent since 2013’s count, from 39,461 to 44,359 people homeless.
In September, Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the city council declared “a state of emergency on homelessness” and committed $100 million to provide permanent and transitional housing to those in need.
Earlier this month, city officials set aside $12.4 million to help house the homeless and provide more temporary shelter during El Nino storms expected this winter.
The funding, proposed by Garcetti and approved by the City Council, includes $10 million for “rapid re-housing” subsidies for nearly 1,000 transients to help them with rent or move-in costs.
The remaining funds will increase shelter beds this winter by more than 50 percent – to a total of 1,300. These beds will be targeted to those living in the Los Angeles River bed and the Tujunga and Arroyo Seco washes.
At the County level, supervisors last week approved $5 million of Homeless Prevention Initiative funds be set aside for the expansion of programs that help decrease homelessness among youth in Los Angeles County.
The County is now drafting a set of strategies to reduce homelessness through an intensive, inclusive planning process known as the Homeless Initiative, which will include recommendations to establish a Transition Age Youth Resources Center.
Approximately 1.7 million runaways or homeless youth under the age of 18 live in Los Angeles County, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Twenty-five percent of former foster youth reported they had been homeless at least one night within 2.5 to 4 years after leaving the foster care system.
Last week city and county officials jointly announced expansion of the County’s SMART team model — known as MET in the County — which according to Sup. Hilda Solis “effectively diverts mentally ill individuals from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs with the potential of helping many turn their lives around.”
What’s Next: With the threat of El Nino looming larger every day, homeless advocates are scrambling to increase the number of shelter beds available this winter. A temporary shelter opened at All Saints Episcopal Church in Highland Park is one such facility that will likely receive emergency funding despite not meeting the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s normal standards. Some cities are considering allowing people living in campers to park overnight at city-run facilities, and other changes.

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

Los Angeles has experienced an increase in homeless living on the streets. (EGP photo archives)

The Threat of El Niño
Federal, state and local officials have been aggressively preparing for El Niño heavy rains that are expected to hit the Southland this winter. In years past, El Niño weather caused traffic gridlock, neighborhoods to be flooded, toppled power lines and damaged homes with the pounding rain for days without end. Cities across the basin have been assessing infrastructure needs and making repairs to avoid storm damage.
Topping the list of preparations across the region has been the clearing of debris flood basins and storm drains.
Earlier this month the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a disaster response plan for severe storm weather.
Commerce and several other cities have set up strategies for communicating with residents and business in the event of an emergency, are encouraging people to sign up for their Alert system notifications.
Bell Gardens is sending residents “tips” for preparing for El Nino.
Montebello and Commerce have each handed out a large number of sandbags to local residents.
What’s Next: Local municipalities will continue monitoring areas prone to flooding, clearing out storm drains and distributing sandbags to businesses and residents. The storms are expected to hit in late winter. Los Angeles County has set up safety tips available at www.lacounty.gov/elnino

The SR-710 Debate
For more than six decades, the battle over how to close the 4.5 mile gap between the terminus of SR-710 Long Beach freeway in Alhambra and the northbound Foothill 210 Freeway in Pasadena has divided communities all along the route, from Commerce to La Canada.
The heavily traveled 710 Freeway is a transportation nightmare for commuters and commercial vehicles in the area, and residents living in adjacent communities.
Caltrans and Metro released a draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (DEIR/EIS) in March on five possible alternatives for closing the gap, they include: a “no build” option; a traffic management system; a rapid bus line, a light rail and a 6-mile freeway tunnel.
Several groups have called for scrapping the report, after months of meeting and public comment, and starting over. Others have called the long delay a racist, environmental injustice, forcing low-income, mostly Latinos to bare  the brunt of high levels of pollution while allowing more affluent communities to avoid carrying their share of the burden.
What’s Next: Information from comments received during public hearings throughout the year will be used to prepare the final environmental document along with the agencies’ preferred alternative. We can expect to see ongoing debate and political maneuvering from all sides of the issue.

 An  SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

An SR710 North public hearing gets heated. (EGP photo archives)

Boyle Heights: Homeless Seen as Safety Issue

October 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

In the past, public safety forums in Boyle Heights mostly focused on issues related to gang violence and crime. But it seems these days that the homeless, illegal dumping and unsanitary conditions at area parks may pose the greatest threat to public safety.

At least that was the view of many residents and stakeholders at a Public Safety Symposium last week hosted by the Hollenbeck Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Lea este artículo en Español: Residentes Exponen Sus Preocupaciones de Seguridad en Boyle Heights

A panel of speakers – representing the City Attorney’s Office, LA Sanitation, Northeast Homeless Housing Coalition, Council District 14 and LAPD Hollenbeck officers – was ready to answer questions about issues related to medical marijuana dispensaries and the homeless. They quickly learned, however, that residents are just as concerned about other quality of life issues like illegal dumping and alcohol sales, nuisance vacant properties, graffiti and dirty parks.

Throughout the evening, speakers tied trash and illegal dumping to increased vagrancy and crime, a problem that has Boyle Heights resident Nidia Gonzalez worried about her family’s safety. She told the panel that the constant flow of old mattresses and other illegally dumped furniture on her block has attracted more homeless people to her neighborhood.

Several people criticized sanitation workers for not acting on the problem fast enough, causing conditions to get out of control.

BH3

Two mattresses located under the fwy at Hollenbeck Park becomes homeless’ personal property that the city can’t remove. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“What does the city do? Are they just relying on the community [to call]? Or do they drive around the blocks to see if there are any bulky items,” one resident asked. The speaker suggested the problem could be solved if city workers identified “hot spots” where bulky items are repeatedly dumped and clean them once or twice a month.

However, Steven Pedersen with the Bureau of Sanitation said sending city crews up and down every street to look for items dumped illegally would be an unwise use of department resources. He said the department instead relies heavily on the public “to be our eyes and ears.”

Pederson encouraged calling the public works department at (800) 974-9794 to report bulky items left on city streets or using the MyLA 311 smart phone app to request a bulky item pick up, to report illegal dumping, graffiti, dead animals, street repairs or non-working street lights.

Neighborhood Prosecutor Cynthia Gonzalez told the audience that the City Attorney’s Office will prosecute people caught illegally dumping. “We will go after them and we will let them know that if they continue illegally dumping they will go to jail.”

Several people also took the city to task for its poor upkeep of neighborhood parks.

Juaquin Castellanos, a local resident and anti-alcohol licensing activist, blamed the rise in the number of homeless at Hollenbeck Park for its deteriorated conditions. “We don’t want to live in a filthy neighborhood,” he complained.

Maria Aguilera lives near the park and said the public restrooms there are now so unsanitary they aren’t safe for children to use, which causes families to spend less time at the park. The restrooms “are in horrendous condition,” Aguilera informed the forum panel.

People complain that restrooms in Hollenbeck Park are in unsanitary conditions. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

People complain that restrooms in Hollenbeck Park are in unsanitary conditions. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Raquel Roman thinks adding more lights could help. She’s been pushing to get more lights installed since March 2014, following a woman being found dead in the park’s lake, but said she just gets the run-a-round.

“We called [Councilman] Huizar, we also called the city and Huizar says it’s Caltrans [job].” They just keep bouncing us back and forth, she complained.

Evelyn Ortiz thinks the city’s lax enforcement of area liquor stores is adding to the problem. She said the retailers sell alcohol to people already intoxicated and that hurts her neighborhood. The single mother says she doesn’t want her two daughters to see drunken “men exposing themselves on the street. I have to cover my daughters’ eyes” when we’re out walking, she said in frustration.

On Monday, Castellanos took EGP on a walking tour of Hollenbeck Park to get a closer look at the unsafe and dirty areas where he said the homeless go to get drunk and sleep at night. He said the homeless men, women don’t clean up their trash, and will leave old bulky items, like a mattress, behind in the park, and it “becomes property that can’t be removed.” He was referring to court decisions that prevent police and city workers from removing property belonging to the homeless without advanced notice and requires the items be stored for a designated amount of time.

“People are afraid to run [here] at night because big groups of homeless are here,” Castellanos observed in frustration.

At the public safety symposium, residents complained of similar issues at Hazard Park and Prospect Park.

Councilman Jose Huizar’s spokesperson Rick Coca was not at the public safety event but told EGP Tuesday that the city “has been handcuffed by legal decisions” when it comes to removing the homeless and their belongings, but did note $2 million in improvements are in the works for Hollenbeck Park. Improvements will include a new playground and filtration system for the lake, remodeled restrooms on the St. Louis Street side and new landscaping.

Hollenbeck Capt. Martin Baeza said people should keep a record, and evidence if available, of nuisance situations because it helps police open a case and come up with “sustainable solutions.”

“We need to work together to find a solution,” emphasized Baeza. “Let us know what’s going on in your neighborhood.”

 —-
Twitter @jackiereporter
jgarcia@egpnews.com

Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.

 

EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

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