City leaders’ announcement a week ago that the Silverado Park gym will become a temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness came as a surprise to many in the neighborhood—and not a welcome one.

Now some are marshaling support to push back against the shelter plan, which they say will deprive them of already scarce recreation space and add to an existing concentration of homeless services in their neighborhood.

Karen Tapia, who said she’s a lifelong resident of the area, learned about the city’s plan from social media, and she doesn’t think the chain link fence that now surrounds the gym will be enough to ensure separation between unhoused people who will stay at the shelter and families who want to use the park.

“I was concerned because my kids go to John Muir (Elementary) — they use this (park) to play sports, even to do PE,” Tapia said Saturday morning. She was one of about 70 residents who turned out at the park to sign petitions expressing opposition to the proposed shelter.

One thing that particularly rankles the residents, they say, is that the city didn’t seek their input or even let them know before holding a press conference to announce the shelter would open later this month. Long Beach officials have touted that the 84 beds at the Silverado Park gym will more than double the city’s winter shelter capacity; meals and other services and security will be provided on site.

It’s not the first time residents in some neighborhoods have experienced this type of surprise announcement.

“What’s happening here is very similar to what happened at the Luxury Inn,” said Carlos Valdez, who lives in North Long Beach but came to the park Saturday to show his support.

Last fall, the City Council voted to buy the hotel and convert it to temporary housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness. City officials “made no provision to inform any of the leaders in the community,” Valdez said.

“It’s getting to the point where people feel like they don’t have representation that’s listening to them.”

Spokespersons for Mayor Rex Richardson and Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who represents the Silverado Park neighborhood, did not answer an email asking about the apparent lack of outreach. Resident Tony Bell, who made a video appealing to Richardson to halt the shelter plan, said the mayor and council member were invited to come out Saturday and hear from residents; neither showed up.

City spokesperson Jennifer De Prez said in an email that after looking at various city facilities, officials decided the Silverado Park gym “included important features to meet the needs of a shelter,” and using it would cause the least impact to existing park activities.

Programs will continue at Silverado Park while the shelter is open, though some that were in the gym will be moved outside or to the community center, De Prez said.

“We understand that some residents may have concerns regarding the temporary use of this space during this time of emergency,” De Prez said. “It should be noted that this temporary winter shelter will be a controlled environment with professional staff who are trained in this type of work and that this temporary shelter is intended to support our entire community in this time of emergency as the challenges associated with homelessness affects everyone in one way or another.”

Some residents at the park Saturday said they don’t object to the city helping their unhoused neighbors, but they feel like the Westside has already done its part as the location of the Multi-Service Center, the city’s hub of homeless services, and Century Villages at Cabrillo, a 27-acre campus with transitional and permanent housing and services.

Others have bad memories of increased car break-ins and stray drug paraphernalia around Silverado Park when the gym was used as an emergency shelter to protect unhoused people from COVID-19 in 2020.

Residents who live near Silverado Park gather to protest a plan to use the park’s gym as an emergency homeless shelter on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. Photo by Sarahi Apaez

Jerlene Tatum, who organized Saturday’s gathering and planned to stay in the park for 24 hours in protest of the shelter, said that at the very least, residents want to meet with city leaders to discuss the situation. The area has less park space than other parts of the city, so if the shelter plan goes forward in spite of residents’ concerns, Tatum would like to see the gym renovated afterward.

“Those of us who live on the Westside have to protect what’s ours because we’ll get the short end of the stick,” she said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove inaccurate language describing the location of the Luxury Inn.