The 85-bed emergency shelter on West Anaheim Street that opened this spring could operate year-round, if the Long Beach City Council agrees next week to kick in a little more than half of the $13.2 million cost to buy the property and fix it up.
The city has long hosted a winter shelter for unhoused people during the coldest, wettest part of the year, and that’s how the facility at 702 W. Anaheim St. started out when it opened April 27, but if the purchase goes forward, it would expand the city’s year-round shelter capacity.
City leaders, who announced the plans at a Friday press conference, have said they hope to add more beds in the future to provide needed temporary shelter. But short-term beds won’t help with the bottleneck created by a dire shortage of long-term housing that’s affordable to people who are unhoused or on the verge of becoming so.
Still, city and county officials were upbeat in discussing the expected purchase of the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s former thrift store; Los Angeles County has pledged to spend $6.5 million to help buy the site.
The annual winter shelter has been “one of the most important tools that the city of Long Beach has used to move people off the streets,” Mayor Rex Richardson said, and buying the Rescue Mission site will end the annual search for a suitable location.
“We know that homelessness is not simply a seasonal challenge. Many of our highest need residents experience housing insecurity all year round,” he said.
Councilmember Mary Zendejas, whose district includes the shelter, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach, also attended the event.
Hahn helped secure funds from Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to addressing homelessness in the county, to buy the Rescue Mission site. The city’s $6.7 million share of the site cost will mostly come from Measure A, a city sales tax; $1 million will come from the general fund, which pays for basic services such as public safety and parks.
The property is $7.2 million, and the rest of the total will fund upgrades such as to the plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems.
Zendejas noted that city leaders met with the surrounding community to answer questions before opening a shelter there, and they were met with “overwhelming positivity”—some residents even urged creation of a permanent shelter.
Hahn said once someone makes the decision to leave the streets, “we can’t be in a position where we tell them, ‘Sorry, there isn’t a bed for you tonight; maybe next week,’ because that might be our only chance to reach them and have them be ready and willing to come inside.”
The annual homeless count that took place in January found 3,447 unhoused people in the city, of which roughly three-quarters are unsheltered. That total was a 4.6% increase over the 2022 count. Less than a month after taking office in December, Richardson persuaded the City Council to declare a state of emergency for homelessness, a step he said would help the city move faster to address it.
The City Council is set to vote Tuesday on buying the shelter site. But a big challenge still faces Long Beach and most other cities in Southern California—creating permanent places for people to live after they leave temporary shelters.
City officials recently said projects to build 33 tiny homes and convert a motel into housing are behind schedule. After the press conference, city Homeless Services Bureau Manager Paul Duncan said the delay stems from the city trying to do those and several other projects at the same time, but there is “urgency to get them done.”
But the city’s purchase of the Rescue Mission property will help more create temporary shelter than the 85 beds it holds. The sale of the property will give the Rescue Mission money to fund a 15-bed facility for unhoused men with disabilities and future projects such as expanding a shelter for women and children beyond the existing 50 beds, Long Beach Rescue Mission Executive Director Jeff Levine said.
Because the women’s shelter is always full, “we turn away five to six families a day,” Levine said. “We have women and children sleeping in their cars waiting for something to open up, and we’re not OK with that.”