Long Beach officials announced Tuesday that they had halted plans to set up a temporary winter shelter for the homeless at a community gym after complaints from neighbors.
Those who live next door to the gym in Silverado Park have insisted this isn’t a NIMBY problem. They say they don’t want to lose an important community meeting place in an area of the city where recreational facilities are limited.
City officials had proposed putting 84 beds in the gym starting this month to house people living on the streets during extremely cold and wet weather. A winter shelter at the community hospital, which opened late last year in the eastern part of the city, has 81 beds, but they are already occupied, officials said.
Residents who live near Silverado Park — at 32nd Street and Santa Fe Avenue — backed down on the plan, saying it was unfair for the city to take away a recreational facility in an area without much open space. Neighbors held a rally outside the gym earlier this month, and as of Tuesday, more than 1,100 people had attended signed a petition on Change.org officials are asking for the shelter’s location to be reconsidered.
During a city council meeting this month, resident Anavelia Valencia wondered why the city couldn’t find an empty building for the shelter.
“Let me be clear, this issue has nothing to do with being housed against homeless people,” Valencia said. “It’s all about taking away already limited resources from a community that already has little to no resources.”
The number of unprotected individuals has increased dramatically in Long Beach during the pandemic. The seventh most populous city in California has 3,296 people experiencing some degree of homelessness, a 62% increase compared to 2020, according to a report published last year.
The shelter nixing comes as Los Angeles is on track to experience its longest cold snap in nearly 20 years. Another winter storm is expected to hit the region, bringing rain, frigid temperatures and low-lying snow this week.
Meteorologists expect Wednesday to be the eighth consecutive day that downtown LA has not reached 60 degrees. Temperatures have dropped even lower overnight — often in the 40s.
On Friday, a person who was homeless in Long Beach died from exposure to the elements. “We must do more to prevent more of the same during the stormy weeks ahead,” Mayor Rex Richardson and city manager Tom Modica wrote in a letter to the community.
Richardson, who has said tackling homelessness in the city is a top priority, said Tuesday he would meet with neighborhood leaders in the coming weeks as officials considered other possible shelter locations. In an interview with The Times, Richardson said he was proud of the work the city had done to tackle homelessness, noting that Long Beach “now has more shelter capacity than ever before.”
“But we need to do more,” he said. “And also addressing the long-term issues, such as housing that is affordable for families and making sure we have permanent supportive housing. We also have to hold on to that long-term lens.”
The city has now set up 60 temporary beds where people can spend the night in the Multiservice Center, that is emergency services for the homeless during extreme weather. But Richardson added that the location was not a long-term solution, as beds had to be cleared for the center’s day-to-day operations. Officials will continue to search for another temporary winter shelter, he said.
“We still need more capacity to meet this challenge effectively,” said Richardson.