Long Beach will no longer move forward with plans to set up a temporary winter homeless shelter at a community gym within the Westside’s Silverado Park, officials announced Tuesday, after the city received an outpouring of community opposition last week.
“We’ve heard concerns from the community and we thank them for their feedback,” Mayor Rex Richardson announced in a city livestream Tuesday morning. “We know that Silverado Park isn’t going to be the best solution for a temporary shelter, and we will not be moving forward with it.”
The announcement came days after more than 100 Westside residents showed up to a community meeting that city officials held to share information on their plans for the shelter. Local educators, parents and more than a dozen children filled up the park’s community center on Thursday evening to voice their concerns for more than three hours, cutting the city’s presentation short.
“We know that we have a plan, and our plan was of the best intent over at Silverado Park to further help our residents experiencing homelessness as fast as we can, especially during the extremely cold stormy times,” Richardson said Tuesday.
Richardson said he will be meeting with groups and community leaders across the city throughout the week to discuss potential solutions to better handle the homelessness crisis. The decision comes in response to accusations from Westside residents that the city did not include them in the decision that would strip the district of its only green space and gym used by neighborhood children for P.E. and sports practice.
The city’s original plan was to host 84 beds in the Silverado Park gym starting as early as this week through the end of May. The plan would have more than doubled the city’s current winter shelter capacity. As of Tuesday morning, it was unclear how the city would move forward.
As a stopgap measure, though, Long Beach announced Sunday that it set up 60 temporary beds for people to stay overnight at its hub for homeless services, the Multi-Service Center, which is on the Westside.
On Monday night, 31 people took advantage of that opportunity, which will be available at least through March 5 as cold, wet weather continues to hit the region.
But, Richardson said, this “is not a sustainable model.”
The additional beds were ushered in after officials said an unhoused person died Friday from weather exposure as a cold-snap and severe storm hit the city.
“We must do more to prevent more of the same during the stormy weeks ahead,” Richardson wrote in an open letter after Tuesday morning’s announcement.
City employees at the MSC are working overtime to set up the beds each night and clear them away each morning so the MSC can go about its normal business.
The city, Richardson said, needs to find more permanent solutions.
“We need to make sure that we have a sharp focus on supporting people who are unhoused,” he said in his morning announcement. “We also will need to make sure that we connect with neighborhood leaders as we discuss our path forward.”
Richardson acknowledged Westside residents’ concerns in his Tuesday letter.
“…it was evident that converting a programmed community asset such as the gym in an area that does not have a lot of green space would result in significant loss of access of a community asset, even temporarily,” he wrote.
Richardson also noted that the city did not work to notify local neighborhoods before moving ahead with the plan to use Silverado Park.
“When we opened our first year-round shelter in North Long Beach at the Atlantic Farms Bridge Housing Community shelter, we sat in people’s living rooms to dispel myths, answered questions, and talked about the long-term impacts,” Richardson said. “…we acknowledge that that same level of outreach did not occur and it is now clear the community expected it.”
According to the letter, the decision came about because the city had identified three gyms as shelter opportunities in the event of a “disaster” such as an earthquake or a fire. Of the three gyms, which were not named in the letter, Richardson said that Silverado would have offered the best facilities, which included showers attached to its adjacent pool.
Aside from Silverado, the other gyms that are considered potential shelter sites in the case of a disaster are within Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Pan American Park, city spokesperson Kevin Lee told the Post. Both Silverado and MLK parks were used for COVID-19 operations since they had showers. But none of the three gyms remain under consideration to become winter shelters, Lee said.
“The feedback we received was clear that taking gym space would be a large impact to the neighborhood and we know that would be similar in other neighborhoods as well,” Lee said.
The 60 additional beds at the MSC, meanwhile, will likely only be available through Sunday. Richardson said the city will “move quickly” to add more temporary and permanent shelter beds, but he said his administration will do this in “a more collaborative way” going forward.