Council Approves Use of Old North Branch Library For Winter Homeless Shelter

 

The old North Brand Library has sat vacant for over year, now it will serve as a temporary winter homeless shelter. Photo: Stephanie Rivera 

The old North Long Beach Library will temporarily be turned into a winter homeless shelter after the city council voted Tuesday night to approve the use of the site through the end of March 2018.

Funding for the winter shelter will come from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a joint agency that is funded by the county and the City of Los Angeles. The funds help power the winter shelters that the county places in each of its five districts, with the fourth district location—Supervisor Janice Hahn serves the fourth district— this year landing in Long Beach at the old north branch which has sat vacant since the opening of the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library.

In June, the Los Angeles County Supervisors approved a $1 billion plan using the voter approved Measure H tax revenue to help combat homelessness in the county. Long Beach, being one of the few cities that has a continuum of care, was expected to receive a large portion of that funding to address the issue locally.


 

The shelter will provide transportation to and from the shelter and those taking advantage of the shelter’s amenities—vouchers, showers, two daily meals—will be required to check into the shelter and stay inside until check out in the morning. It will be for adults only and will not accept homeless families.

Eighth District Councilman Al Austin said that the short notice that some residents complained of Tuesday night was the result of a fast-moving process that found an empty city building capable of housing persons during the coldest of months. Austin said he could not in good conscience turn down that opportunity.

“I live around the corner from Scherer Park and I have the opportunity to see people sleeping in the park, in cold conditions year round,” Austin said. “I recently just a couple weeks ago engaged a homeless person who was sleeping in the bushes of my neighbor two doors down. This is no longer a hidden problem, this is a problem that exists and it’s not out of sight for most of us.”

Still, some neighbors raised concerns over the potential for increased crime, substance abuse and the impact on the surrounding buildings, most of which are residential, if the winter shelter was approved by the council.

“I can’t imagine that there’s not another location that’s not in a residential community,” said one resident. “Five out of the last six years the homeless shelter was in a commercial area.”

With the vote, the shelter is approved to open as early as this week and stay open through March 31. However, city staff was quick to point out that unlike last year’s winters shelter, use of the facility will not be extended as the city is in the middle of a request for proposal process to find a long-term inhabitant for the old library.


 

Long Beach Director of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy said that an outreach team will be deployed to inform homeless persons of the shelter’s opening, including a policy that will require them to take a bus to the shelter and transportation options to those bus pick-up locations.

Colopy said that those who want to take advantage of the shelter’s services will be required to follow a set of rules, but noted that in the past there had been few reported incidents with past winter shelters. She said the winter shelters are valuable pieces to their operations as they try to help people transition off the streets.

“It helps us to build a much stronger relationship and helps us connect with homeless individuals because they’re there almost every night,” Colopy said. “Many people stay throughout the process and so we build trust and relationships and that’s what it takes to start to bring people into service and to help people so this is very important to our operation.”

 



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