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Monday, April 15, 2024

Do not neglect Koreatown in homelessness policy

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Good morning! It’s Monday, May 22. The LA City Council voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency regarding the homelessness crisis, paving the way for LA Mayor Karen Bass to implement her signature Inside Safe program. To enhance the program’s effectiveness, the city is reportedly acquiring hotels and motels, including one in Koreatown, which has raised concerns within the Korean-American community. It is crucial that the hotel purchase plan does not have a negative impact on local businesses or exacerbate concerns among Koreatown residents.

LA Mayor Karen Bass (third from right) and city officials cut the ribbon on a new apartment building for the homeless on Skid Row in downtown LA on Feb. 9. The apartment building is seven stories tall and comprises 82 units. [LA Mayor’s Office]
On May 16, the LA City Council voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency regarding the homelessness crisis. Additionally, they approved the allocation of an additional $50 million to tackle the issue. Simultaneously, the council called for more frequent reports on the progress of the “Inside Safe” program, which is LA Mayor Karen Bass’s signature policy to address homelessness.

According to LA City Chief Administrative Officer Matthew Szabo’s report to the council, the Inside Safe initiative has successfully transitioned a total of 1,205 individuals off the streets and into housing over the past five months.

It has also facilitated the clearing of 15 homeless encampments in various neighborhoods. However, it is worth noting that there was no encampment sweep in District 10, which includes Koreatown. Although Szabo’s report suggests that encampment removal was unnecessary in Districts 1, 7, and 10, there are observations of homeless encampments in and near Koreatown, such as along the 10 Freeway and Olympic Boulevard.

On May 18, the city council approved a $250 million budget for the Inside Safe program for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning on July 1. The city government plans to allocate $65.7 million to the Inside Safe program in July, with the remaining $184 million to be used in the first half of the following year. As of now, approximately $12.8 million has been spent on providing 22,437 room nights of temporary housing for homeless individuals in 25 hotels and motels, according to Szabo’s report.

Several homeless encampments are visible on the street near Hannam Chain Supermarket at W Olympic Boulevard and S Berendo St. on May 19. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]
To enhance the effectiveness of the Inside Safe program, the city is reportedly acquiring hotels, motels, and other lodging facilities. Negotiations are currently underway for the purchase of the 294-room Mayfair Hotel, situated between Downtown LA and Koreatown. However, the city’s plans to acquire several other hotels, including one in Koreatown, have raised concerns within the Korean-American community.

Koreatown is a prominent commercial area in LA with high foot traffic due to its concentration of various businesses, most of which are located near hotels. Converting hotels in Koreatown into homeless housing could potentially have a negative impact on the surrounding commercial area.

Such concerns led the Korean-American community to strongly oppose the construction of a homeless shelter at the city-owned parking lot at Vermont and 7th streets back in 2018. At that time, the decision to build the shelter was made without prior consultation with Koreatown residents.

Addressing homelessness was Mayor Karen Bass’s primary campaign promise. She pledged to provide housing for 15,000 homeless individuals in her first year in office, which likely influenced the city’s decision to purchase hotels as part of her effort to fulfill this promise. Mayor Bass emphasized the need for stable housing, stating, “If you put people in shelters, they’re going to be back on the streets,” highlighting the importance of providing a year-long stable living situation.

It will be interesting to see if Mayor Bass’s policy shift can offer a new solution to reduce the number of homeless individuals on the streets. However, it is crucial that these changes do not negatively impact local businesses or exacerbate concerns among Koreatown residents.
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By Mooyoung Lee   lee.mooyoung@koreadaily.com