Los Angeles officials gathered with social workers and others who help those who are homeless on Wednesday, June 9, to dedicate a new 75-unit temporary pallet shelter village in Wilmington, hailing it as another step in a battle they say is being won.
Residents, including some people from the Lomita-McCoy encampment nearby, will begin moving in as soon as late this week, with about 10 people added per week after that, a gradual ramp-up that will allow residents and staff to acclimate to the new development.
The Salvation Army will supervise and manage the shelter, appropriately named “Salvation Village.” The 75 separate, insulated units offer 64 square feet that include fold-down platforms outfitted with mattresses, heat and air-conditioning, locking doors, working windows, smoke alarms, and electrical outlets. They cost the city about $5,000 each and stand on a paved parking lot owned by the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks. The village is next to Los Angeles Harbor College and is expected to serve some of that school’s unhoused students.
Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who now is running for mayor, hailed the new temporary shelter in his 15th District as one of many ways his district has tackled the homeless crisis. He’s been aggressive in pursuing temporary shelters and developers of permanent supportive housing, though also has walked a line with the often strong community objections to how the issue is being handled.
Indeed, on Wednesday, Buscaino also asked the City Council to resume L.A.’s ban on encampments on sidewalks from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., enforcement of which has been suspended since the coronavirus pandemic began last year.
“I know some who question the cost of this and other solutions, but the financial and moral costs of leaving people to deteriorate on our streets is much more costly,” Buscaino said at the shelter dedication. “People are dying on our streets at rates higher than we’ve ever seen before. Last year 1,083 people lost their lives.”
Firefighters also have attributed 60% of the fire calls to homelessness, he said.
While the issue has dominated much of the city’s attention in recent years, those on the frontlines say progress is being made.
Amber Sheikh, who heads up the CD15 Working Group on Homelessness, said the efforts are paying off.
“Our encampments are drastically shrinking daily; I almost don’t believe it sometimes, but it’s true,” she said, adding there’s been a 1,113% increase in shelter beds now available throughout the South Bay.
“At last count,” she added, “we actually have enough units in temporary and permanent housing to house every single person experiencing homelessness in our district.”
As for the “tiny houses,” she said the concept that was once derided has come into its own with the more sophisticated pallet models, providing support for the approach of not discounting any particular solution.
Originally, a tiny home concept presented in San Pedro several years ago was much more primitive.
“It was a wackadoo idea (then); we’re going to put people in sheds?” Sheikh said of the reactions to what then were proposed as simple and mobile wooden structures on wheels.
But ideas sometimes come back around, tweaked, and are seen as more workable.
“Give it two years and it’s called innovative because look at us now,” she said. “It maybe didn’t work three years ago but people were so excited to move into these homes, I was floored. What were they most excited about? The privacy and the air-conditioning.”
Often called tiny home villages, other pallet shelter communities have been set up in Riverside, the San Fernando Valley and Redondo Beach.
Other approaches over the years have included temporary shelters under expandable membranes; using motels for homeless housing; and building permanent housing. Three temporary Bridge Home shelters have been opened in the council district, Buscaino noted, offering 300 beds total. Two RoomKey programs offer 172 rooms and there are 1,200 permanent supportive housing units in the pipeline.
It’s not been without pushback, however, with a petition currently making the rounds in Wilmington, where plans to turn a closed grocery store into permanent supportive housing have drawn criticism for taking away a needed business property in the community.
Buscaino struck a softer note on Wednesday than he had the day before at a Venice campaign rally, but he reiterated the need to keep city park space and sidewalks free of encampments.
“Allowing sprawling encampments is not compassionate,” he said, echoing a line from the day before. “It’s reckless. That’s why I support regulations that will return the rights of every angeleno to enjoy our public spaces and prohibit encampments whenever someone is offered shelter.”
He also called again on neighboring cities to do more, adding that Redondo Beach and Torrance both deserve credit for recent moves to address the problem in their areas.
The insulated prefabricated pallet homes, produced by a company in Seattle, are referred to as cabins or shelters and are not designed to be permanent housing, company representatives have said.
The site in Wilmington will offer common bathroom, shower, laundry and dining facilities along with outdoor gathering spots and accommodations for pets. Meals will be brought in.
City News Service contributed to this article.