Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu sent a letter to the White House Thursday asking to use U.S. Army property next to a Reserve Center as a site for building a temporary homeless shelter.
"After many years of neglect, I am pleased to see the federal government notice this humanitarian crisis felt across our nation," Ryu wrote in his letter. "This site, in the Los Angeles City Council District I represent, could serve as a location for homeless bridge housing."
Behind chain link fencing topped by rusty barbed wire, olive green tents were visible Thursday on the otherwise undeveloped lot in Sherman Oaks at 5161 Sepulveda Blvd. It had been identified for possible development of bridge housing more than a year ago, and working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Ryu broached the idea to the Army.
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However, after initial discussion, Army officials have refused to allow any city officials onto the fenced-off site for inspection, Ryu said. The Army cited security concerns.
In an interview, Ryu acknowledged he had put the plan aside until recently, when President Donald Trump escalated his criticisms of Los Angeles for its homeless situation, spoke of possible federal intervention, and had officials travel to the city to evaluate the situation.
"This is a perfect opportunity for the federal government and the Trump Administration to put their money where their mouth is," said Ryu.
Ryu is well aware that--as in other areas where homeless shelters have been proposed--residents and businesses have raised concerns. Nevertheless, in the Hollywood area of Ryu's district, the long empty Gardner Public Libary has been converted and reopened as a women's shelter, and half a dozen other proposals are in the works, he said.
Locating a site in the San Fernando Valley has been more difficult. Ryu contends the Army property is especially well suited, situated between a city fire station and the Army Reserve Center, in an area not far from the Sepulveda Basin that had become a magnet for homeless campers. In recent weeks the city has targeted the basin for major clean ups.
"There are hundreds of people experiencing homelessness, many of them veterans, living in the immediate area," Ryu said.
According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority data released in June, there are more than 1,100 homeless people living in Ryu's Fourth District, 34 of whom were identified as veterans.
"What will solve homelessness are more homes, as well as increased access to services that have been routinely denied to poor and vulnerable Americans," Ryu wrote. "What will not solve homelessness are cages, quarantines or shoddily built structures lacking services or oversight. If you are interested in solutions to homelessness, I urge you to allow us access to this underused lot."