Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has a $20 million campaign called “A Bridge Home” to open temporary homeless shelters in each of the 15 council districts.
Resistance is growing in Koreatown, where there are plans to put a shelter on a city-owned parking lot at 682 S. Vermont.
An estimated 400 homeless people live in Koreatown. The temporary facility will be open for a maximum of 3 years.
Dozens of people gathered at the Wilshire/Vermont Metro station plaza on Saturday afternoon to speak out against the proposed 65-bed shelter.
“What's the justification for not having a public hearing? We want to help. We want to be part of this decision making procedure. That's all we want,” said Jake Jeong, an attorney and community leader.
Residents also expressed concerns about drugs and crime, with several schools within a mile of the shelter site.
Officials counter that the housing will have 24/7 LAPD and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) surveillance.
It’s not clear what the temporary facility will look like. Garcetti’s campaign includes different kinds of emergency shelters, including tents, trailers, storage units and safe parking facilities.
“There are different visions of what it can look like,” Wesson said. “There's a trailer vision where you would have a configuration of trailers connected together… and then there's also this military-ish membrane type.”
San Diego has experimented with a big tent. The nonprofit service provider Alpha Project put up a sprung structure that has heating, air conditioning and other amenities.
Jason Yeo and Angela Joo both say that homeless services and housing should be concentrated in downtown LA, rather than in neighborhoods like Koreatown. Photo by Avishay Artsy.
Some Koreatown residents support the idea of installing a temporary homeless shelter.
“We've never had so many homeless encampments in Koreatown that I've known. I've never seen so many before. And I’d love to see something be done about that,” said Johnny Lee, a restaurant owner in Koreatown. “I know a lot of business owners in Koreatown want to see something done about that too.”
The shelter is bringing up some deep-seated anxieties within the Korean-American community that they’re not being listened to.
“Maybe people think we are selfish [because] we [are] against the homeless shelter. We are not selfish. We're just asking, they have to respect us, ok? We work hard, we pay taxes, and they are not hearing us. They are not respecting us. That's not fair,” said one of the protesters, Karen Lee.
That feeling goes back to the 1992 riots/civil unrest and the feeling that law enforcement didn’t do enough to protect Korean store owners.
“After 1992 when this community was burned to the ground, it was built up by the blood, sweat and tears of Korean Americans. And it's just finally been revitalized and has actually been improving for the past couple of decades,” said protester Emmanuel Han.
There’s also a stereotype that Koreans are more focused on family and business and uninterested in local politics, and are expected to go along passively with the city’s plan.
“Koreatown has a history of being disenfranchised and has a history of marginalization because they think that Koreatown residents don't vote and they don't complain,” said Angela Joo.
There’s also a belief among Korean-Americans that homelessness is not an issue facing their community.
According to LA homeless statistics, LA County is 14 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, but that group makes up just 1 percent of the homeless population.
Raymond Kim, who runs the Facebook page that opposes the Koreatown shelter, raised the issue of support structures between families and friends.
“Everyone in Koreatown has a friend or a family that's been in terrible condition, they've been down on their luck and they've housed them. I've done that,” Kim said. There would be way more homeless if we didn't take care of our friends and our family.”
But there is also a hidden Korean American homeless community that sleeps in 24-hour spas and local churches. That’s according to Joon Bang, the executive director of the Korean American Coalition-Los Angeles.
The protesters say they’ll come back to this location every weekend until Councilman Wesson grants them a public hearing. Wesson says there will be a council committee hearing but it hasn’t been scheduled.