Long Beach officials are actively looking for a second site to host a shelter for those experiencing homelessness after a plan to convert a West Long Beach park gymnasium into a temporary site was nixed following a public protest last week.
The location of the new site is still undecided. In the meantime, the city has pivoted to setting up and tearing down 60 cots daily at its Multi-Service Center, where homeless services are administered. The city has said that plan is not sustainable.
Paul Duncan, the city’s homeless services bureau manager, told the Homeless Services Advisory Commission on Wednesday that the Health Department was using overtime hours to set up the beds and take them down each morning so the facility can open.
The food vendor that the city had in place during COVID-19, meanwhile, is gone, so the city has had to ask local faith-based organizations to help serve meals at the site. The first few nights, the city had to scramble to provide food to the dozens of people who have started to stay there.
“The first night we ordered pizza,” Duncan said.
Duncan said the city is actively seeking out all options for a new site, but he clarified that it would not include any parks. He explained that the city’s emergency sheltering plan during natural disasters like earthquakes or flooding calls for shelters to be established at gymnasiums and other park buildings.
However, the decision to cancel the plan to use Silverado’s gym was done not because of the fears and apprehensions people expressed over having a shelter near their homes, but because the city recognized that the area had less access to recreational space and taking the gym away would be an equity issue.
“If people are saying they don’t feel safe, that is not a valid reason,” Duncan told the committee during a presentation. “These people exist within our community, and if you really want to speak about safety, the more people we can have in safe places like in a shelter, the better off we are as a city.”
City officials have sent letters to educational institutions, other city departments and regional agencies asking them to identify land that could be used to create permeant or temporary housing for unhoused people.
Los Angeles County Metro and the city have also begun discussions about creating a temporary homeless services hub along the A Line in Long Beach to help shelter those people who are forced off the agencies trains by its end of the line policy.
But the city is looking for space in the interim that can help increase its shelter capacity.
While the city is not looking at parks, it could look to empty schools like Burroughs Elementary, which closed in 2015 and has been cited by a number of residents as a possible solution. The school is part of the LBUSD but is located in Signal Hill, and Duncan said the site hasn’t been vetted by the city.
Chris Eftychiou, a spokesperson for the district, said that there have been “no definitive developments on our end” when asked if the city had approached the district to use any of its buildings.
Another alternative could be to extend operations at the winter shelter site at Community Hospital, which is set to end operations at the end of the month. Duncan told the committee that preliminary conversations began this week about a potential extension there, but those discussions have not progressed beyond city hall, according to city officials.
Jennifer Marsh, the campus administrator for MWN Community Hospital, LLC, which owns the hospital, said in an email that MWN has not participated in any negotiations about keeping the shelter site beyond the original agreed-upon date the City Council approved when it voted on the contract to operate the winter shelter there in December.
“We fully intend for the shelter lease to end on March 31,” Marsh said in the email.
City Manager Tom Modica said Thursday that regardless of where a new shelter site might end up, the city intends to do proactive outreach to the communities surrounding the proposed site before any kind of decision is made to move forward.
The city is hopeful that the county will fund its second shelter but if the city has to pay, Duncan said it will likely tap into the $13 million the City Council set aside for homeless services in early February. The city projected that the Silverado Park site was going to cost about $62 per bed per night.
As cold weather persists, the city plans to continue to set up the additional beds at the Multi-Service Center to keep people out of the cold. The original plan was to stop operations at the end of this week, but Duncan said that the beds could continue to be available through March 8 and beyond if temperatures continue to pose exposure risks for people sleeping on the streets.
An unhoused person died in late February, Duncan said, and early indications are that exposure to the cold could have played a role. Over 100 unhoused people died in the city in 2022.
Editor’s note: John Molina is the owner of MWN, and he is also the primary investor in the parent company that owns the Long Beach Post. Read more about the Post’s ownership here. The story has been updated with more information about how the city might pay for a new site.