Battle over Koreatown shelter wages on, with supporters stepping up

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Los Angeles officials are fighting back against opponents of a planned homeless shelter in Koreatown.

Hundreds of homeless advocates and Koreatown community members rallied Friday at City Hall to show support for the emergency shelter planned in the neighborhood.

It’s the latest event in a controversy that’s been been brewing for more than two weeks after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last month announced that at least 15 temporary shelters are set to rise around the city.

The shelters will give homeless residents a place to stay and to get connected with social services while permanent homeless housing is constructed under a $1.2 billion spending plan that Los Angeles voters approved in 2016.

Thanks to a new state law, those shelters can be constructed quickly, with little community input, as long as they rise on land owned by the city. The law was meant to allow cities like Los Angeles to respond to skyrocketing levels of homelessness.

But residents and business owners who oppose the project in Koreatown say more public outreach should have been done.

What happens with the Koreatown project could shape the implementation of the emergency shelter plan, which city officials are calling A Bridge Home.

Some opposition is already emerging toward a proposed shelter site along Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.

In Koreatown, opponents have called for a town hall-style meeting about the shelter and are planning a third rally against the project Saturday at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, where the project is planned.

A petition opposing the shelter has garnered over 9,000 signatures; but the project has supporters as well. A counter-petition launched last week had drawn close to 600 signatures at the time of this writing.

Homeless advocates at Friday’s rally argued that the planned shelter would give homeless residents in the area a needed alternative to sleeping on streets and sidewalks. According to data provided by Councilmember Herb Wesson’s office, Koreatown is home to at least 400 homeless residents now living without shelter.

In a video released by Wesson last week, the councilmember explains that the neighborhood has the largest concentration of homeless residents in his council district. But unoccupied plots of city-owned land where a shelter could be constructed are scarce.

That’s why a parking lot just off the busy Wilshire corridor was selected as the project site, despite its proximity to schools and businesses—a chief concern of project opponents.

The councilmember and mayor met with community members last week to resolve concerns about security at the shelter and its hours of operation (it would be open around the clock). But attorney Grace Yoo, who ran against Wesson in 2015, tells Curbed that the response of local officials has been lacking.

“It’s not that we oppose a shelter in Koreatown,” says Yoo. “It’s that people are being blindsided. This is something we can be proud of, but if you try to push it down into a community without buy-in and support, people are going to be upset.”

Yoo says she has doubts about the city’s ability to provide 24-hour security at the shelters, and that she’d like to see more data about the area’s homeless population.

In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Korean American Coalition director Joon Bang argues that a shelter is needed in the neighborhood, but that city officials need to do a better job of community outreach and education in the future.

A public hearing on the Koreatown project is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22, at 8:30 a.m. at city hall.

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