By T.A. Hendrickson
A motion by CD 14 City Councilmember Kevin de León to build small, prefabricated shelter units for the homeless in Eagle Rock and Highland Park was unanimously approved on Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council.
In Eagle Rock, the units — known as “pallet housing” — are slated for the parking lot on N. Figueroa St. across from the Eagle Rock Recreation Center near the 134 Freeway ramps. In Highland Park, the pallet housing is slated for an unused section of Arroyo Dr. near S. Avenue 64 and the 110 Freeway. The shelters, generally 8’ by 8’ or 10’ by 10’, are intended as “bridge” housing for people as they transition to permanent housing.
Pete Brown, a spokesperson for De León, told the Boulevard Sentinel that the aim is to house up to 134 homeless people at the Eagle Rock site and up to 224 at the Highland Park site. “Between the two, we believe we can house most of the individuals currently experiencing homelessness in our portion of NELA,” said Brown in an email reply to questions from the Sentinel.
According to the city’s latest homeless count by community/city, there were 117 unsheltered homeless people in Eagle Rock as of January 2020 and 245 in Highland Park.
At last count by the Boulevard Sentinel in mid February, there were some 13 tents in the parking lot on N. Figueroa.
Brown also noted that the goal for starting construction on the pallet shelters would be April or early May, thereby allowing occupancy of the units to begin at the end of the summer.
There are hoops to jump through along the way. The city has to get approval from the Board of Recreation and Parks (RAP) Commissioners to use the parking lot in Eagle Rock for pallet housing. Technically, the RAP Board could say “no,” though the City Council has veto power over the Board’s decisions.
Similarly, the city must also reach agreement with SoCal Edison regarding use of a portion of the lot.
“We are working closely with RAP and SoCal Edison to find creative, cost effective solutions to bring our unhoused constituents inside,” wrote Brown.
From Feb. 25, when the motion cleared a key committee in the City Council, to Mar. 16, 64 public comments were filed on the motion.
Of the total, 28 were clearly in favor of the motion and 32 were clearly against. Four letters raised issues and questions without taking a clear stance for or against.
The supporters of the motion cited moral and humane imperatives to help house the homeless and said that pallet housing would be a vital first step toward addressing other complex problems related to homelessness, such as addiction, mental illness, joblessness and the lack of affordable housing. The Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council both submitted statements in favor of the motion.
Those opposed expressed concern that current problems with homelessness on N. Figueroa — including safety, sanitation, public intoxication, drug use and untreated mental illness — would get worse as more homeless people move onto the lot. They called on De León and the city to fully explore other options for housing the homeless, such as motel rooms, before committing to pallet housing. They objected to the location of the pallet community in Eagle Rock so close to a public park. They also objected to the locations in both Eagle Rock and Highland Park on the ground that they are too close to freeways to be suitable for building for human habitation.
The Sentinel asked De León to comment on the appropriateness of housing homeless people next to freeways. He reiterated concerns he has raised many times about the health impacts on all residents in CD 14 due to pollution from the many freeways throughout the district, adding, “The reality is, there is finite space to provide housing for people.” He noted that the proposed pallet communities would offer hundreds of people experiencing homelessness safe housing, with HVAC systems, that take them off the streets of Eagle Rock and Highland Park.
Many questions raised in the public comment letters remain unanswered. How will potential residents for the pallet communities be screened? Will mental health services and drug rehab treatment be available? What are the plans for sanitation and site security?
Brown said that these and other questions will be answered when a service provider is selected to operate the site. No such provider has yet been selected, but Brown said the choice will be a provider with a good track record and qualified, professional staff.
Brown also said that the pallet communities in NELA would operate for an estimated three to five years as the service providers work to place the residents into suitable permanent housing. He could not say how long any one resident might remain in a pallet shelter, because the length of a stay depends on the needs of the person and the availability of permanent housing. “Our office will remain involved throughout to assist where needed and ensure progress,” he wrote.