The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, senior pastor of Holman United Methodist Church, a proponent for turning Parker Center into a homeless shelter and affordable housing
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, senior pastor of Holman United Methodist Church, a proponent for turning Parker Center into a homeless shelter and affordable housing
Ileana Wachtel

Groups Seek Ballot Measure to Renovate Parker Center as Homeless Shelter

Dozens of people gathered in front of the Parker Center on Thursday, many holding blue posters emblazoned with a uniform message: L.A. Needs the Tom Bradley Center. Their call? Renovate the old LAPD headquarters, turn it into a complex that provides both affordable housing and a homeless shelter, and rename it to honor L.A.’s 38th mayor.

“The city is in a humanitarian crisis,” says Ileana Wachtel, communications director for the Coalition to Preserve L.A., which helped organize the event. “Our leaders need to rethink the plans they hatched a decade ago when perhaps it made sense to tear down valuable buildings that now could house the homeless.”

Wachtel announced that the Coalition to Preserve L.A. and the Healthy Housing group — founded in 2017 by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to acquire properties in L.A. and turn them into transitional housing — are working on a ballot initiative for the Parker Center renovation.

“Our city leaders have not produced housing for the homeless fast enough or cheap enough,” she says. “We believe voters will welcome both saving Parker Center for homeless housing and renaming it the Tom Bradley Center, honoring one of the great leaders of our city.”

Renovating the Parker Center to serve the homeless community is expected to cost the city millions less than it would take to redevelop the site from scratch, as some city officials hope to do. City leaders have discussed a plan to demolish the building to construct a tower in its place for luxury offices. It’s a $483 million prospect that would do next to nothing to spur the kind of change needed for the people of Skid Row, renovation proponents say.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has claimed the building has asbestos, but AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein has said renovation proponents would be willing to pay for an independent inspection to confirm that, and to clean it up if the situation isn't that bad.

The Coalition to Preserve L.A. and Healthy Housing have teamed up with architectural designers to reimagine the Parker Center. They surmise the former police building — it’s been empty for more than five years — could house more than 700 homeless individuals.

One of the attendees at Thursday's gathering, 54-year-old Allan Killian, says if it wasn’t for affordable housing, he might still be homeless.

Looking back to mid-February, when he entered his new place at the Madison Hotel — the building was renovated by the Healthy Housing Foundation — Killian says he couldn’t help but exhale a sigh of deep relief. Before then, he had been sleeping on a cot on the streets of Pasadena. “If you’re going to be homeless, it’s a good place to be,” he says.

For nearly a year, he had held his bed — a sleeping bag — close to his body. Beneath sunshine, and rain, Killian lingered on the streets, watching an endless stream of passers-by. It was during this time that he heard about the many horrors happening to other homeless people across Los Angeles, particularly those on Skid Row.

“Homeless women are subjected to getting raped. It’s very prevalent,” he tells L.A. Weekly. “There’s also robbery, people taking what you got — physically ripping your pockets open — and there’s assault.”

A few months into his new digs at the Madison, Killian has begun to rebuild his life. He works as a freelance photographer, who can’t help but see — in focus — a blaring hole in the system. “There’s not enough affordable housing to go around,” he says. “Everyone is scrambling for parachutes, but the availability is just not there.”

Among the proponents of the renovation plan is L.A.-based novelist Ivy Pochoda, who teaches at the Lamp Arts Program in Skid Row.

“I have to say that any major building being converted into a low-income and emerging shelter is a wonderful initiative,” Pochoda tells L.A. Weekly. “As long as plans such as this one are executed with the express needs of the Skid Row community, I believe that they can give residents hope that their plight is not being ignored, that they are human, and their lives are important.”

Though settled into the 220-unit Madison, Killian is already planning to move into a larger space with a bathroom and kitchenette next month at downtown’s historic King Edward Hotel. The 150-room structure was bought this past month by Healthy Housing and is being renovated to provide additional transitional housing.

Killian says he believes city officials can continue with their interest in constructing an office tower, just not at the Parker Center. He says it is an already built complex primed to house hundreds of homeless people once it is renovated.

“There’s nothing wrong with capitalism, there’s nothing wrong with making a profit,” Killian says, his voice clear and wistful. “But there’s also nothing wrong with helping our fellow citizens.”

To learn more about the renovation plans,  click here.

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