Last night, officials from City Council District 4 held the first of two neighborhood-focused “Community Meetup” events scheduled for the Greater Wilshire area. Although all area residents were welcome to participate in the online event, CD 4 most specifically tailored the conversation for those who live in neighborhoods at the eastern edge of the GWNC area, including Oakwood/Maplewood/St. Andrews, Ridgewood Wilton/St. Andrews Square, Western Wilton, Country Club Heights, and “Koreatown.” (In opening the meeting, CD 4 Communications Director Jesse Zwick said Koreatown was included because – even though Koreatown’s official boundaries place the district in CD 10 and not CD 4 – many of its residents have moved over the years into the adjoining Greater Wilshire neighborhoods but still self-identify as residents of “Koreatown.”)
Zwick opened the meeting saying the inquiries CD 4 receives most often from residents in these areas focus on homelessness, both generally and regarding specific encampments.
According to Zwick, the CD 4 office is working hard to figure out new ways to handle issues related to homelessness, and while it has limited power to direct other city agencies, CD 4 is working to build up its own recources, especially for homeless outreach. For example, Zwick said, the office is now assigning staff members who work on homeless outreach to remain in contact with the people they interact with. The office is also bringing in a team of people from the Ascencia non-profit, paid for with the Council office’s discretionary funds, who will be dedicated to homeless outreach specifically within CD 4. Also, Zwick said, CD 4 has received fuding from LA County specifically targeted for multidisciplinary outreach for homeless individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Zwick said that outreach to homeless residents works best when it’s accompanied by offers of housing. Measure HHH funds will pay for about 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing, he said, and are now being allocated and spent, but those units are still in the pipeline. More immediately, Zwick said, CD 4 is working on other kinds of “non-congregate” housing options, like Project Roomkey, which provide more privacy and independence than group shelters, and are thus more appealing to many people on the streets. Finally, Zwick said, CD 4 has also received a large number of “rapid re-housing” vouchers, funded by the national CARES Act, which provide assistance for those who have recently lost their housing to get back into new rental units quickly. (Though Zwick says they still need to find more landlords willing to participate in the program before it can be widely effective.)
Finally, area Field Manager Su Lee reported that the CD office is also “deeply interested” in fire risks from homeless encampments, especially in hillside and other high fire risk areas. She said CD 4 staff is doing special outreach and education on fire safety to people living in encampments in those areas.
Encampment at Wilshire Branch Library
From these introductory remarks, the discussion quickly re-focused on the more specific issue of a large homeless encampment outside the just re-opened Wilshire Branch Library, at N. St. Andrews Pl. and Council St.
Lee said she has been in touch with many neighbors (a number of whom were in attendance at the meeting) about this particular encampment, and she was pleased to announce that she has successfully connected the people living in the tent most immediately in front of the library to an offer of housing. And Lee said that as city staff were working with those initial individuals, a couple living in another of the tents in front of the library also made inquires about the housing process, and agreed to be connected with a case manager and outreach team.
Moving on to questions from attendees, several people asked about what to do when encampments fully obstruct sidewalks, preventing other residents from passing, as happened yesterday at the library. Several attendees also reported seeing lumber, tools, and a generator among the items blocking the sidewalk at the library (indicating illegal construction activities), and others reported seeing drug deals taking place at the camp.
Addressing these complaints, Lee said LA Sanitation is doing some “sanitation compliance education” with encampment residents, and that she will check back soon to make sure conditions improve. She also said she is in “constant contact” with LAPD about the reports she has received about illegal activity at the location.
In addition, Zwick noted that ADA regulations require at least 36″ of passable sidewalk space next to the curb, so if there are large obstructions and no compliance with the regulations after residents have been warned about the situation, LA Sanitation is allowed to remove items. But the city also has to tag and store the removed items, unless the owners formally relinquish them, so that complicates things a bit. Finally, because it’s simply impossible for city officials to monitor such situations day in and day out, Zwick said CD 4 still prefers to focus on on outreach and more permanent offers of housing, rather than simply clearing trouble spots.
Finally, in response to a question about the best way to report homeless encampments, and whether the new Ascencia team will be able to help fill the gap in night and weekend response, when most city departments can’t respond (leaving LAPD as the only 24/7 responder in the city), Lee said the best way to report encampment issues is through the form on the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority’s Homeless Outreach Portal (LA-HOP) at https://www.lahsa.org/portal/apps/la-hop/request. And once people do fill out the LA-HOP service request, and receive a service request number, they should forward that number to Lee, so she is also made aware of the situation.
While homelessness in general, and the Wilshire Library encampment, in particular, took up most of last night’s discussions, a few other issues were raised and discussed at least briefly.
First, GWNC alternate board member Joseph Suh noted that he worked with former City Councilmember David Ryu last year to have some new public trash cans placed along streets in the Western-Wilton neighborhood, and asked if the current CD 4 staff would be willing to install more such receptacles in other parts of the neigborhood, to help both housed and unhoused residents more properly dispose of trash and dog waste. Zwick said the Council Office definitely believes that items like trash cans and hand-washing stations are important in fighting the homeless crisis, and asked Suh to provide more information about his previous work to install trash cans. Also, in a separate inquiry from Suh about some local apartment residents who may be facing eviction soon, even though the city’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium is still in effect, Zwick suggested that the residents get in touch directly with either Lee or CD 4’s Director of Housing Policy and Protections, Deepika Sharma.
Next, Ridgewood-Wilton resident Mary Rajswing brought up the issue of oversized trucks illegally using S. Wilton Place as a through-way, despite posted weight limits for the street, an issue she has also been in touch with Lee directly about. Rajswing said that even though the posted signs make it possible for LAPD to write tickets for weight violations, officers are available only every couple of weeks, and it takes about 15 minutes to write each ticket…so even though the problem is constant, it’s barely addressed by the city. Lee thanked Rajswing for her involvement on this issue, and said she would forward Rajswing’s emails and photos to both LAPD and the Department of Transportation, and share the outcome of her inquiries.
Another resident, identified only as Amy, asked aboutCouncilmember Nithya Raman’s campaign promise last year to advocate for rent cancellation and/or forgiveness for people who couldn’t pay their rent during the pandemic. Zwick said the Council Office has been “actively pursuing” such remedies, but that the “landscape has changed from the campaign.” For example, he said, there was some funding available for rent forgiveness programs a few months ago, but much of it was contingent on the participation of landlords, and if they didn’t agree to the terms of the program, tenants would receive a much smaller amount of help than if their landlords participated. Zwick said there was also some state funding available for rent relief, but Los Angeles received a much smaller amount, per capita, than some other cities, so the city has been working hard to increase that funding. Finally, Zwick noted that tenants who do still owe back rent have a full year, after pandemic restrictions are lifted, to repay what they owe, and those who pay at least 25% of the total amount owed, within the one-year time period, will be permanently protected from eviction.
Finally, regarding questions about the best way to contact CD 4 staff, Lee and Zwick noted that phone access has been limited since Nithya Raman took office, because the pandemic has required everyone to work from home, so there have been no public phone numbers available. Zwick said that will change soon, however, as city hall offices will be opening again, and staff can finally move in, next week. In the meantime, Lee invited people with concerns to contact her at [email protected] and said she can provide a calendar link to schedule a private online meeting.
The next CD 4 Community Meetup, for other parts of the GWNC area, and homeowners in particular, will be held in a couple of weeks.
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
- More Posts