Commentary: LA Koreatown homeless shelter should be praised, not hated
By Raymond Mendoza
People's Daily app


The Los Angeles City Council is receiving a great deal of bad press for its recent decision to build a temporary homeless shelter in Koreatown, drawing the ire of residents who are concerned about the safety of nearby schools and businesses.  However, the people who are mad about this plan might have their hearts in the wrong place – since this shelter could provide major benefits to the city and county.

First and foremost – Los Angeles needs more homeless programs and shelters because the city and the county’s vagrant population is reaching epic proportions. According to data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, more than 34,000 homeless people lived in LA in 2017 while the county had nearly 58,000 homeless residents during the same time. This trend is not a fluke either, as the number of people living in the streets and shelters in LA and LA County has increased some 75 percent in the last six years.

Homelessness is not an LA-centric problem either, as the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that there were nearly 554,000 homeless people living in the US in 2017. This rate also increased since 2016 by .7 percent. The two largest increases in homeless population were California, followed by New York.

To combat this homeless epidemic, LA needs shelters – both permanent and temporary – to make sure this population not only stays safe; but also has the opportunity to improve their lives. LA can no longer sit idly by while tens of thousands of its residents live in squalor and die on the street.

This new shelter can help people get back on their feet, provide mental and physical health assistance to thousands, and help protect people from California’s harshest weather. In fact, Koreatown was chosen to house the shelter since City Council President Herb Wesson said that Koreatown has the largest homeless population of any neighborhood in the district. So, logic would say that the location is perfectly suited to provide help since it will be at the very heart of the problem.

This shelter, and the other planned shelters being pushed by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, will also provide a valuable service to many minorities in Southern California – specifically blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans. As of right now, blacks and Hispanics make up 66 percent of LA’s homeless population.

Asian-Americans currently make up 1 percent of the homeless population, but according to an LA Times article about the changing face of Asian-American neighborhoods like Koreatown; this number is steadily increasing due to the rising housing costs. The Asian-American homeless population numbers could be thrown off, according to the article, due to some of these people staying off the streets by living in 24-hour spas and churches.

Furthermore, minors and the elderly make up some 32 percent of LA’s homeless population, so this planned shelter is a perfect opportunity to help those who cannot help themselves. In dealing with these underserved communities, LA could also help reduce its numbers for crime such as prostitution, drug use, theft, and more.

Finally, this new shelter should be seen for what it could represent: a symbolic gesture that the city aims to make up for its past mistakes in regard to racial discrimination like during the 1992 Rodney King riots. While some people in LA might feel abandoned by their city and police officers because of their race, this shelter is a way to build relations by improving the community. These shelters are designed to get people off the streets, provide them with help, and make neighborhoods and businesses look nicer in the process.

This shelter is only a single part of the city’s overall plan to end homelessness. The next step is a $4.6 billion venture to build affordable housing and provide more support services for homeless people to ensure they stay off the streets. Once homeless is eradicated, or at least diminished, property values will go up and once dangerous areas like Skid Row can be safe again.

Yet, the residents are making several good points for their opposition to the shelter. The biggest complaint from Koreatown residents comes from the fact that the location of the shelter was never properly discussed with residents until it was approved.

A new state law cites that cities have the ability to expedite construction of new shelters if they are on publicly owned land. Residents are upset because the location, which is a city-owned parking lot, because it bypassed their chance to give input on the project. Residents, who have started a petition collecting thousands of signatures, claim that they were not informed about the location and that they would like to have a town hall discussion with Garcetti and Wesson.

Safety is most definitely a chief concern for the Koreatown residents since the proposed shelter would bring more homeless people to their area. They are concerned that more homeless people could mean more drugs and crime in their area.

One final complaint from some residents claim that the temporary shelter is short-sighted and will not fix the area’s homeless problem. This group said they want a permanent structure to last beyond a few short years and that the city’s current plan will not be able to fit the growing needs of the homeless population. These critics say that the temporary shelter will help thousands, while a permanent shelter could help more.

The residents of this area have a right to not want a homeless shelter in their neighborhood, but they must understand that this shelter is meant to provide help. This new shelter won’t completely solve LA’s homeless problem, but it can help – and maybe that’s the most important part of the city’s decision.