Despite hundreds of demonstrators marching Thursday in Koreatown in opposition to a proposed temporary homeless shelter, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson vowed to keep moving forward with his plans to use a city-owned lot in the neighborhood for the facility.
The opposition to the city's plan to install the shelter near the heart of the business district appears to be growing, as Thursday's demonstration was at least the fourth in the last few weeks and protesters temporarily shut down part of Wilshire Boulevard.
At a City Hall news conference, Wesson said the announcement of the shelter could have been handled better. He also responded to threats from some opposition leaders to mount a recall campaign against him. Wesson's term is up in 2020 and he cannot run again due to term limits.
"A few days ago I met with one of the opposition leaders who looked me in my face and he said, 'Why don't you think about your future?'" Wesson said. "I'm not worried about my future. I've been blessed. I have a good life. We are fighting for the future of the mother of two that is going to sleep in a doorway or sleep in her car with one eye open so she can keep an eye on her children and make sure that she's not robbed or raped or worse."
The proposed shelter was announced on May 2 at a news conference by Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti as the first potential site in a $20 million plan to install temporary shelters in each of the 15 council districts.
Although Garcetti said at least 25 other sites around the city are under consideration for shelters, which would be in the form of large tents, trailers or safe parking facilities, the Koreatown site has become the focus of intense opposition. An online petition against the shelter has gathered over 9,400 signatures.
The shelter would house no more than 100 people at a time in a neighborhood the city estimates has 368 unsheltered people. The plan would also call for 24-hour security and on-site support workers who would offer services and attempt to transition people in the shelter into permanent supportive housing.
"Homelessness is the most important issue that we are dealing with in the city of Los Angeles, and I view this moment as a defining moment where it relates to the city's strategy in dealing with this crisis, this emergency," Wesson said.
Many of those opposed to the shelter have said that the neighborhood may need one, but the site picked by the city is too close to the main business district and schools. Some have also argued the city did not do enough outreach before the shelter was announced.
"I think I could have done a better job ensuring that people got more information about what this actually is," Wesson said.
Wesson's spokeswoman, Vanessa Rodriguez, said a lot of misinformation had been spread in the Korean-language media, which could be partly responsible for the heated opposition. She said among the false reports were that the site was the only one being considered by the city, that homeless people from Orange County would be brought there, and that the city held a fake public meeting about the shelter on Tuesday presided over by people who were not real council members, when in fact the Homelessness and Poverty Committee meeting was presided over by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and attended by other elected City Council members.
Garcetti recently held a news conference with the Korean-language media in an effort to clarity what his office called misinformation.
The Tuesday committee meeting was one of the most raucous in recent memory at City Hall, where hundreds of people filled the council chamber to capacity.
Despite the opposition, the committee unanimously approved the city-owned parking lot at 682 S. Vermont Ave. as suitable for development as a crisis and bridge housing facility. The full City Council is expected to consider the site at an upcoming meeting.
Harris-Dawson had trouble keeping order at the meeting as he admonished the crowd on numerous occasions not to yell out or interrupt. After the meeting some audience members continued yelling and arguing with each other in the hallway.
The number of homeless in Los Angeles spiked in 2017 by 20 percent to over 34,000, according to the results of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, although the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority recently said the numbers in the county were inflated by 2,746, and it is not yet clear how many of those were within the city of Los Angeles.
Wesson said the site was chosen because it is a city-owned lot and that the neighborhood has the highest concentration of unsheltered homeless people in his district.