Residents filled a community center at Veterans Park in Long Beach Monday night to question how a proposed homeless service hub along the Metro A Line could affect their community.
Nearly 150 people showed up to hear representatives from Los Angeles County and LA Metro speak about the project, which could bring such a hub to either the Willow Street or Wardlow A Line station later this year. Metro and city officials are considering the proposal after Metro’s board of directors voted last month to look at creating a hub to alleviate the effect its end-of-the-line policy was having on Downtown months after the city asked the agency to reevaluate it.
Currently, due to the policy, riders are forced off the A Line onto the First Street station at around 1 a.m. every morning, something that led to about 39 unhoused people exiting into Downtown each night, according to a Metro survey conducted earlier this year.
During a mostly civil meeting hosted by the Wrigley Association, residents voiced their apprehension about having a hub located near their community, saying that it could damage the area’s ability to attract new businesses, potentially create public safety issues and continue to place the burden of homeless services on an underserved part of the city.
“I’m a proud NIMBY,” said a man who identified himself as Ben. “I do not want homeless people in my backyard.”
Monday’s meeting followed the city’s announcement last week that it was canceling its plan to create a second winter shelter site at Silverado Park after hundreds of residents protested the city’s decision to place it at Silverado, a decision they say was made without consulting residents.
Metro board members have discussed the Willow Street station as a potential site for the hub, which could provide services like showers, phone charging and potentially shelter. However, a final site has not been determined, and the board is expected to be presented with options sometime in April.
Willow could be the preferred location given its large, underutilized parking lot, where temporary housing and other services could be located.
The board asked for staff to look at sites north of Downtown where Metro owns property to potentially establish a hub. Only the Wardlow and Willow stations have parking lots, and both are adjacent to the Wrigley neighborhood in Long Beach.
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach and serves on the Metro board, coauthored the motion to look at creating a hub in Long Beach and potentially other cities that are experiencing similar issues at Metro’s other end-of-the-line stations.
Some nearby residents questioned if locating the site near their homes would only serve to draw more unhoused people to the area to seek out the services that may be provided there. Others pointed to Metro’s enforcement of fares, something some attendees believe is not happening, as a contributing factor to the transit agency becoming a “shelter agency.”
“I’m sorry, but this is Metro’s fault,” said Alan Tolkoff, who said Metro had not provided the kind of law enforcement presence on its trains that was promised to residents when the train was introduced to the city in the 1990s. “Had they kept their promise, we wouldn’t be here tonight.”
Most of the meeting was administered through a moderator who relayed written questions from the crowd to a panel that included representatives from the city’s homeless services bureau, the county and Metro.
Officials tried to calm the crowd by saying that nothing was finalized for the site and that discussions with the city about creating a hub were preliminary.
Luke Klipp, a senior transportation deputy for Hahn, said that the Willow Street station has been identified as a hotspot for homeless encampments and that would likely persist whether a hub is created or not.
“If we don’t do a service hub, there are already folks here,” Klipp said. “What we’re talking about is what can we do to serve folks so they can get connected with housing, jobs, vital records like birth certificates and veteran records so they can be placed? All of these things are not possible unless we provide some level of service to connect them.”
Klipp cautioned that Metro, the city and the county were still very early in the process. Because of that, very few details about how the site would be operated, who would pay for it and how long it would remain in place were provided to attendees.
“It’s not like it’s going to happen tomorrow, or three months of now,” Klipp said. “We’re still operating on a timeline that’s a ways out.”
Carlos Ovalle, a Wrigley resident and frequent critic of City Hall, said that the money that could be spent on this proposed hub would better be used by funding a Multi-Service Center that is more accessible to the unhoused and hiring more employees to expand its services beyond normal business hours.
“It’s cruel to make them walk there,” Ovalle said of the current Multi-Service Center’s West Long Beach location.
Last month, the city began deploying a mobile Multi-Service Center to help reach more people.
If a hub was created at the Willow or Wardlow station, Paul Duncan, the city’s Homeless Services Bureau manager, said that there would be a priority placed on serving those people that may already be living near the station. Duncan said if the hub idea moves forward, it would include security and other staffing similar to what the city’s winter shelter has in place.
“I 100% agree this is not a one-area-of-the-city issue, but there are limits for what’s in Downtown in terms of Metro property,” Duncan said.
Not everyone was against the idea of establishing a service hub near the A Line.
Joan Greenwood, a resident of the neighborhood, said that if you took the roughly 3,300 unhoused people counted in the 2022 homeless count and divided them equally by the nine City Council districts, each would have to make room for about 366 people for each community to “do their part.”
Greenwood said she’d seen the progress from city outreach workers connecting people to services near her home and had confidence in the hub if it were implemented along the A Line.
“Whether it’s Willow Street or Wardlow, at the end of the day it will help, because like you said, they’re here anyway,” Greenwood said.
The Metro Board of Directors is expected to get more details on a proposed site and information on an operation plan in April. Klipp said that there would be more community meetings if the city and Metro decide to move forward with any site in Long Beach.