Despite more than a year of planning amid strong community opposition, many residents remain unclear about how the city’s new A Bridge Home shelters will be any different from others that have gone before them.
The Bridge Home program, launched by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, is designed to provide what is known as “low-barrier” shelters that accept people as they are.
The goal, supporters say, is to get people inside first — and then work on their issues.
“We try not to put barriers in place so people don’t want to come inside,” said Jennifer Hark-Dietz, deputy CEO of PATH, People Assisting The Homeless, which will oversee the San Pedro facility. “When you have a lot of strict rules, you might not get somebody to accept coming in.”
There are still some rules: No drug or alcohol use or weapons are permitted on the site, she said. But residents won’t find the “10 pages of rules” some of the older shelters have, including drug tests.
“That in itself was a deterrent,” Hark-Dietz said in an interview Wednesday, July 3. “Our approach is, ‘Let’s come inside and we’ll work with you while you’re here.’
“It’s really,” Hark-Dietz added, “about having a relationship with the person.”
The shelters, though, have been resisted in many areas and nearby residents have expressed concern about how it will alter the neighborhood.
Hundreds of opponents turned out in September to object to the San Pedro shelter, which is across the street from the World Cruise Center and the Battleship Iowa, and is also not far from downtown San Pedro.
“It’s the location,” said Liz Guardado-Nicosia of San Pedro. “We’re not against homeless people, we’re against vagrants.”
In September, she said discarded drug needles are commonly found at area parks and beaches. Others have complained about public defecation, drug use and crime.
“We’ve got to start thinking about our kids,” Guardado-Nicosia said at the time. “San Pedro needs help.”
Large banner signs have been hung from some of the houses just above the Bridge Home site, declaring “No Shelter.”
Opponents have argued that sites were chosen and pushed on communities with little input. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office has disagreed, however, noting that 150 meetings were held with residents and no other property fit the criteria for shelter placement.
San Pedro’s will be one of 15-to-20 temporary shelters throughout the city of Los Angeles. Four have opened already and San Pedro’s is slated to be ready by late this year or early next year.
PATH, with 700 employees and a 30-year record working with the homeless, currently oversees the Hollywood shelter and will also be in charge of the one in Venice, as well as San Pedro, once they open.
The San Pedro shelter, 515 N. Beacon St., will house 100 men and women (no children or families allowed) for stays of 90-to-120 days — or until more permanent housing can be secured. Pets will be welcome. Meals will be prepared and served on the premises.
Speaking at a news conference when the first of the city’s A Bridge Home shelters opened in September, Peter Lynn, director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, described the facilities this way: “It is a temporary rest stop while we get people into permanent housing.”
But those efforts, headed up by case workers, are primarily designed to give people a serious push toward the next step and to keep them off the streets. Addictions, finances and other personal issues that have contributed to homelessness will be addressed.
The program is forgiving of lapses.
“If they come back and they’re intoxicated, we’ll work with them as long as they’re not creating a problem or are a behavior challenge,” Hark-Dietz said. “If they come back after having a couple drinks earlier, we’ll talk to them about decreasing their use.”
They’ll have a better chance of getting back on track, she said, if they’re not back out on the streets.
“We recognize that people make mistakes and we don’t want to turn them away,” Hark-Dietz said.
If needed, however, they may also be transferred to another facility, she added.
With patience wearing thin in many communities hit by encampments and all the problems that come with them — homelessness in L.A. County increased an estimated 12% this year compared to last — much is riding on whether the city’s new shelters can make a dent.
And it could take before San Pedro’s encampment around the Post Office dwindles, let alone vanishes completely.
Most of those who will be initially ushered into the new shelter, Hark-Dietz said, are probably living in cars or apart from the encampments. She said the expectation is to fill the shelter within its first week.
Buscaino’s Office, meanwhile, has expressed hope that in the three-year shelter time frame, many of San Pedro’s homeless issues could be addressed.
“We don’t want to leave any bed empty and we want to make sure we get people in quickly,” Hark-Dietz said, adding that residents who are moved out into more permanent settings will be quickly replaced.
“There are a lot of people working to make this successful,” Hark-Dietz said.
That includes officials with the county, city and Los Angeles Police Department, which provides extra patrols. Each agency is on board as part of the shelter team, Hark-Dietz said.
Hark-Dietz also noted that residents are free to come and go, but that efforts have been made to include outdoor spaces within the shelters to encourage residents to stay on the grounds.
“We haven’t experienced (loitering)” at the other sites so far, she said.
“The sites are really well-designed in terms of space,” she said. “We’re there to be a good neighbor and these are people who already have been living in the area. They’ve just not had the services.”