Plans to open a new temporary shelter on West Anaheim Street are likely to move forward as Long Beach prepares to close its winter shelter at Community Hospital at the end of the month.
Most of the several dozen who filled a community meeting in Drake Park on Thursday night voiced support for the proposal to open the three-month temporary shelter at 702 W. Anaheim St., where the Long Beach Rescue Mission used to operate a thrift store.
“We’re talking about interim housing. It’s not the end result. It’s not the last answer,” Mayor Rex Richardson told meeting attendees.
The site is meant to replace the 85 beds that would be lost at Community Hospital’s shelter, which will close April 30. District 1 Councilmember Mary Zendejas told the Long Beach Post she hopes to get the new shelter open before then so that there is some overlap in the transition.
Zendejas said she’s mostly received positive feedback, but there were some who needed convincing.
“They said ‘Why always on this side and not the Eastside?’ but that just means that they didn’t know that the existing one was on the Eastside, so just little things like that we had to walk them through,” she said.
The open forum yielded an overall positive response. It concluded in stark contrast to the last time the city attempted to unveil plans for a temporary shelter on the Westside, when hundreds of angry residents filled the Silverado Park Community Center, effectively halting plans for a shelter that would have taken over a gym used by local children.
Staff from the city’s homeless bureau assured that the new site would have a “minimal impact” on the community. Officials said it would include a shuttle service to the Multi-Service Center just under a mile away and be operated by First to Serve.
But the evening did not unfold without criticism.
The top concerns voiced were about a lack of response and aid for those living unhoused in the riverbed and a dire need to add more beds, not just replace the ones that will be lost at Community Hospital.
The first question about the riverbed came from one attendee who asked the mayor about recent encampment sweeps of that area. Richardson replied: “The question is on the fringe. … The conversation today is about adding an important asset to our shelter continuum.”
But because of the proposed site’s proximity to the riverbed, the topic was brought up repeatedly by several more residents and a handful of homeless advocates.
“I will say the riverbed has come up four times now,” Richardson said. “I get the riverbed is a problem. I get it. So we need to talk about it because the riverbed technically isn’t our jurisdiction.
“We have to figure out how to have a specific strategy that we can communicate to the public about the riverbed.”
Jamie Armstead, who runs nonprofit Jumpstart Long Beach, said when he first started offering aid to unhoused people in the riverbed, the city warned him not to and that it would be too dangerous.
“These people down here are good people. They have their issues, but we have even kids that come to volunteer. We have not had one incident of violence,” he said.
Armstead’s biggest criticism of the new shelter site was that it would not be open to offer resources to those who could walk there from the nearby riverbed. Armstead, like many others at the meeting, also pointed out that for now, the new shelter would merely be another short-lived site to shuffle unhoused people into.
“That’s why my biggest thing has been trying to figure out with the city—how do I figure out what you’ve got, and how can I make it easy for my people to get in?” he said. “Ultimately, it’s always rotating with these resources, always.”
“If we’re going to do it, I would like for us to make sure there’s resources that we can get hands on for the people that are not just people we’re transition over, because I’d like to be able to say, ‘Hey guys, there’s hot meals here.’”
But those who want to stay at the proposed West Anaheim Street shelter will not be able to just walk up to the site. They will have to register through the Multi-Service Center first.
Eventually, the city would aim to add more beds to the proposed site, Joy Contreras, a city spokesperson, told the Post. But for now, the 85 beds would come available just in time to fill a void and those who already have beds at Community Hospital would get priority access at the new site in District 1.
A need for affordable housing and “extremely” affordable housing was also raised throughout the evening, but in the interim, many repeatedly asserted that they would like to see the city propose a permanent shelter.
“The thing that I got disappointed about is that it’s only a three-month project,” said Mary Simmons, a member of the AOC7 neighborhood organization. “What would it look like to make this, you know, a year-round program? What’s going to happen during the nine months when it’s unoccupied?”
Richardson highlighted the challenges of garnering community support for both temporary and permanent shelters.
“I can remember, and even before I was on the council, every year there’s some political hot potato about where to place a winter shelter—it’s literally, ‘Whose district is it going to be in?’” he said.
Ultimately, he said it was “too premature” to say whether 702 W. Anaheim St. could become a permanent site, but it’s an option that remains on the table if the temporary site is successful.
“We’ll go find the funding if there’s community support and if there’s a willing partner on the other end,” he said of the site. “That’s just how local government works.”
While the forum ended with a round of applause and a show of hands for all of those in favor of the site, staff will conduct more residential canvassing before an official announcement is made, Contreras told the Post.