A couple hundred members of the Koreatown community, in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles, gathered on Thursday morning to protest the planned conversion of a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard into a homeless shelter.
It was the latest protest — this one organized by the Wilshire Community Coalition. Residents said they were angry that they were not consulted by the city, and in particular by City Council president Herb Wesson, who represents the area, before the site at 682 Vermont Ave. was proposed.
The homeless shelter has been a hot-button issue since it was raised at a Los Angeles City Council meeting earlier this month. On Tuesday, May 22, the council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee voted unanimously to move forward with the plan, which involves temporarily sheltering an unannounced number of homeless people in the parking lot for up to three years. That news was greeted with a chorus of boos and cheers.
The City Council still has to vote on the matter.
The march started at 11:30 a.m. at Vermont and Wilshire, and headed to Normandie Avenue. Community members wore shirts that bore slogans such as “No Hearing, No Shelter” and “No 682 Vermont.”
Koreatown resident and retiree Joe Pak, 66, said he understands there’s a major homeless problem in L.A. — an epidemic. But he said he has a problem with the city’s apparent belief that it doesn’t need to consult the community about the shelter because the existing parking lot is city-owned.
“That’s not fair,” Pak said. “Wesson has said publicly [through the below video that he released on his website] that Koreatown has the most homeless people in Los Angeles. That’s not true — it’s false data. Also, if the parking lot is city-owned, who owns the city? The residents.”
Wesson wasn't immediately available for comment. But in the video he said that the program created by Mayor Eric Garcetti will put a minimum of 15 temporary shelters throughout the city, one in each district.
“We will also receive additional money to help keep the community clean,” Wesson said in the video. “On the site, we are going to be able to provide 24-hour service for individuals who have been on the street. We're going to be able to train them, provide them with counseling … they will be given an opportunity to return to the mainstream. … Together we can end homelessness but we really must try.”
On Monday, the City Council approved a budget that included $440 million for homeless services, including new housing, shelters, outreach services and sanitation.
Garcetti and other supporters say the temporary shelters would have trailers, large tents and safe parking facilities and would be open about three years, until planned supportive housing is built.
Pak pointed out that the Korean-Americans living in the area are not against the homeless community.
“We want a permanent, not a temporary, solution,” he said. “We’re Christian people, and are well-known for supporting the homeless. We just want a say, and to be part of the solution.”
Another Koreatown resident, Min Sa, 70, said people are concerned because there are three schools in the area, and lots of businesses.
“We want to help the homeless, but not this way,” he said. “They’re not asking the community, and the homeless people sell drugs. We’re not happy.”
Protesters gathered on both sides of the street for the largely peaceful gathering. They received some angry comments from passers-by, though, with one female driver yelling, “You have somewhere to sleep — why shouldn’t they?” as she pulled up at a traffic light.
A male cyclist stopped to shout at the protesters. saying they were “hypocrites,” and informing them that he’s a veteran who has fought for this country.
During the protest, a homeless man named Rick looked on with interest and said that he understands the concerns of the community.
“A large percentage of the homeless are on drugs,” he said. “That faction takes away from the homeless people who want to live a life of modesty and grit. If you have a guy near a school, slugging alcohol, I can see why that might be considered a bad influence on the kids. It’s like the hippies — the best of them were infiltrated by the rabble.”