On the morning of Jan. 18, Gabriel Alejos—a 25-year-old Long Beach native who now lives homeless in the city—was on his way to take his dog to the beach when he stumbled upon a white RV-style van labeled “Mobile Access Center” at the Promenade in Downtown.

Moments later, staff in front of the van were assisting him with job applications he had been working on.

“They have a couple jobs lined up for me. So hopefully, I get back working for the city here pretty soon,” Alejos told the Long Beach Post that day, adding that he typically does landscaping for the city.

Nearly two months after Long Beach declared a state of emergency over homelessness, that van has been parked Downtown three days a week, rotating between three locations: the Promenade, Billie Jean King Library and the corner of East Sixth Street and Long Beach Boulevard.

The Mobile Access Center will be parked Downtown three days a week and will rotate among the Promenade, Billie Jean King Library and the corner of East Sixth Street and Long Beach Boulevard. Photo by Kat Schuster.

It’s the city’s latest attempt to reach unhoused people where they’re at. To date, the Mobile Access Center, or MAC, has served 322 people since it first hit the streets on Dec. 7, Chelsey Magallon, a spokesperson for the city, told the Post on Thursday.

The mobile unit is meant to serve as an auxiliary for Long Beach’s Multi-Service Center, or MSC, which is the city’s only fixed facility that offers homeless intake services. The MSC is situated in an industrial area of West Long Beach that’s sometimes hard to access.

“… I started looking for places to get help and I found the Multi-Service Center and I didn’t know actually that they had vans that drive around like this,” Alejos said.

The mobile unit offers case management services, some health care aid, and referrals to the city’s shelters and partner agencies. A full-time health clinic is not offered, but often, a public health nurse is present.

“They don’t have showers available, but other than that, we can pretty much do everything that we can do at the MSC from here,” Joel Reynoza, a community program specialist with the city’s Homeless Services Bureau, told the Post as he worked from the van parked on Sixth Street and Long Beach Boulevard.

“This is historically one of the spots in Long Beach that’s had many people experiencing homelessness,” he said.

The single most common request that the staff at the MAC receive is for vital documents, Reynoza said.

“A lot of the people who are experiencing homelessness or are unhoused do not have their IDs, they don’t have their birth certificates, they don’t have their Social Security cards,” Reynoza said.

Staff can offer help to get an identification voucher for those who have never had or lost a California ID card. Assistance in recovering a birth certificate is also offered.

What tends to be a bit more difficult to fulfill are requests for shelter, according to Reynoza.

“We’re usually at capacity,” he said.

When beds are available, Reynoza says the city is able to shuttle those in need from the MAC to a shelter that night. Shelters in the city are for single individuals, he said, and seniors or those with disabilities are prioritized. Families are typically referred to the city’s Homeless Family Solution Center.

Alejos said he’s had trouble finding shelter over the years and often alternates between sleeping outside the Billie Jean King Library or aboard a Metro train during operating hours, among other areas.

“If I stay in the same spot, I tend to get approached by people who don’t like seeing people like me,” Alejos said.

He says he’s been on and off the streets since he was 15 years old.

“And not by choice either,” Alejos said. “So the plan is: Get a job, get off the streets into some kind of housing.”

While shelter space remains scarce in Long Beach, Reynoza said the city is working to get as many unhoused people connected to case management as they can through the MSC and the MAC.

The MAC is staffed with a crew of various city employees including outreach workers, a public health nurse and sometimes, staff from the Fire Department. In the future, he says the city will add case managers to that lineup.

The city’s Homeless Services Bureau has just two certified social workers on staff. Outreach workers within the city typically come from a wide range of backgrounds varying in education or experience. Reynoza said that someone with lived experience is the most ideal candidate for the job—folks who have previously experienced homelessness in Long Beach.

“That’s what we look for. We don’t have anyone with lived experience at the moment, but we are working on that,” he said.

These workers are typically tasked with going out into the community to letting unhoused people know where the MAC and MSC are to get them connected to a city case manager, Reynoza said.

Reynoza himself, born and raised in Long Beach, started out as an outreach worker when he was first hired by the city in 2017. Around that time, he said people he knew personally were becoming homeless.

“I wanted to help my community,” he said. “Went to school and was studying to be a social worker and then that kind of changed, but I still saw need here in the city of Long Beach.”

Reynoza said the city hopes to deploy two more Mobile Access Centers in the coming months to cover parts of North Long Beach, East Long Beach and more of Downtown.

“We’d like to bring them out to areas where the Multi-Service Center isn’t … easily accessible,” he said.

Currently, the MSC is the city’s only official brick-and-mortar location for homeless people to visit for mental health services, housing coordination, case management and medical care. However, for those who don’t have a car, the Westside center can be a bit of a trek and difficult to find as it operates in a remote industrial zone.

Alejos described having an additional hurdle when he tried to get to the MSC from Downtown.

“You wouldn’t believe it. I walked there. I walked because they wouldn’t let me on the bus with her,” he said, gesturing to his dog. “So, I walked. Picked up the dog and I walked across the two bridges.”

Those bridges were along the Anaheim corridor, a dangerous stretch of road that the city has designated as a “high-injury corridor” for traffic collisions and fatalities.

With the MAC now close by, Alejos was able to avoid making that treacherous trip on foot once again when he needed more help.

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Kat Schuster is the editor at the Long Beach Post and the author of Off the Clock, a weekly newsletter. You can reach her at [email protected].