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LA's historic Olvera Street may get homeless shelter

Crowds gather at Olvera Street, Los Angeles for the Virgen of Guadalupe celebration in December, 2015, near to where families of the missing in Mexico set up displays of photographs of their loved ones.
Dorian Merina/KPCC
The Olvera Street, L.A.'s historic pueblo, is near the site of a proposed temporary shelter for homeless.

A plan to place temporary housing for homeless in a lot near Olvera Street in Downtown L.A. moved forward Wednesday over the opposition of local merchants.

The L.A. City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee approved a plan to place three trailers, meant to house 20 people each, on a parking lot near the El Pueblo monument. Under the proposal, the shelter would house people for up to 60 days and would operate for three years.

The shelter would cost about $1 million in start-up costs and another $1.4 million in annual operating costs.

“What we’re doing now just doesn’t work,” said Council Member Jose Huizar, who proposed the move. “We do cleanups and within days we’re back to where we started.”

Local shop-owners, however, were not so sure.

Edward Flores, who identified himself as a fourth generation Olvera Street merchant, said the shelter might scare off visitors to a vibrant historic shopping area. 

"I don't think this is where you want to do this," Flores said.

A consolidated shelter, with services providing a path to longer term housing, would be better than a shifting population of encampments, Huizar said.

Huizar also asked that the measure not be scheduled for full council until city staff is able to meet with local merchants and assuage their concerns.

As local officials move to combat homelessness and find sites for new housing and services, he said, “we need good, honest community outreach.”

Over the past year and a half, voters have given city and county officials a wealth of new funds to tackle the homeless crisis. Proposition H, a city bond, provides $1 billion over ten years for housing for homeless and low-income people. The county’s Measure HHH sales tax raises up to $355 million annually for homeless services.

The county and city’s coordinated strategies call for an emphasis on permanent housing for homeless.

On Wednesday, city council members showed signs they’re feeling the pressure to produce results.

“We can’t wait six, seven years for permanent supportive housing,” said Council Member Mike Bonin, calling for more investments in strategies that get people off the streets quickly, if temporarily.

“It doesn’t feel like we have the urgency we need,” said Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

“I’m excited about this kind of crisis housing, this is exactly what we need to get people off the streets quickly,” Huizar said of the proposed trailers.

The L.A. Homeless Services Authority estimates there about 60 homeless camping in the Pueblo area, roughly the number who could fit in the proposed shelter.