By Gene Maddaus
The county Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday a massive investment in homeless services, a key element of which would regionalize the homeless problem, setting up five Skid-Row-style facilities in the suburbs.
The county’s plan would cost $100 million and would include novel ideas such as a “homeless court,” where officials could dismiss nuisance violations for homeless peoples who get prolonged treatment.
The plan comes in response to increasing pressure to clean up Skid Row, the 50-block area of downtown Los Angeles where many of the county’s homeless end up.
Police in the area have complained that suburban departments, including Pasadena, bring their homeless to Skid Row for treatment and temporary shelter. Often, Los Angeles police say, homeless people from the suburbs end up being downtown’s problem.
The regional centers are an effort to solve that. Like Skid Row’s missions, they would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Police and hospitals would be able to take homeless people there, instead of to Skid Row.
“It’s an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Rabbi Marvin Gross, the executive director of Pasadena’s Union Station Foundation. “Communities where there are homeless folks have the responsibility to provide aid and service to those citizens.”
Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the San Gabriel Valley, said he was concerned that the county plan is too expensive and would take money out of the county’s general fund.
He also worried that the plan might unfairly saddle suburban cities.
“They should not be forced to take on a downtown L.A. problem without their involvement and approval,” Antonovich said. “The city of L.A. – traditionally all they have done is have their hand out.”
It remains unclear where the five 24-hour facilities would be built. The county’s plan calls for one in each of the supervisorial districts. The new facilities would be expansions of existing homeless shelters, according to the plan.
Antonovich was in Pasadena last week to present a check for $1 million to Union Station for its expansion. He praised the homeless facility for engaging with the community and winning acceptance from its neighbors.
As a residential facility, Union Station is not open around the clock, which means it has less of an impact on its surrounding neighborhood than a 24-hour mission-style facility would.
Even so, Councilman Sid Tyler said it was “a bloody war” to find a place for Union Station 20 years ago. The expansion plan ran into neighborhood opposition last year, which was eventually resolved.
Tyler said Pasadena has done more than its neighbors to support homeless people.
“I wouldn’t think we would be a candidate for one of those regional centers, given what we’re doing,” he said. “If the strategy from the county’s point of view is to disperse them, it seems to me Pasadena would not be one of those places.”
Pasadena police Chief Bernard Melekian said that situating the new centers would be a political decision for the supervisors and the suburban councils to settle. But from a police standpoint, he said, it would help to have more options than Skid Row.
“It would be easier, assuming each of the centers is in fact a full-service center, that the money is there and infrastructure is there,” Melekian said. “If all you’re talking about is warehouses with cots, then no.”