LB Approves New Homeless Plans

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By Sarai Henriquez, Editorial Intern

In Long Beach, there are an estimated 2,034 people that experience homelessness, according to the city’s 2020 homeless count. Each year the numbers keep increasing according to the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services’ Homeless Services Division. There has been a rise of 24% of unsheltered individuals that have experienced homelessness between 2019 and 2020.   

On July 7, the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted to create a new ordinance that will expand the locations where emergency shelters, interim and supporting housing, safe parking, and social service will be established in Long Beach.

“This update will make it easier to develop interim housing and relating uses and broaden the opportunity site for said uses in an equitable manner throughout the city,” said Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, project planner.

Development Services Director Linda Tatum stated in a letter to the city council that the reasons for housing insecurity can vary but are not limited to poverty, unemployment, lack of housing affordability, substance abuse, mental health problems, abuse, reentry from incarceration, divorce, death in the family, and disability.

In December 2018, Mayor Robert Garcia provided the city council with the Everyone Home Task Force Report. The report established goals and actions that could be taken to enhance the city’s response to housing insecurity.

Many state laws have been adopted to address the housing and homeless crisis. California Senate Bill 2, adopted in 2007, revised the housing element by requiring that translational and supportive housing be permitted in residential use. It also required the city to have enough areas zoned to allow shelters. In 2017, the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority cited 58,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night, a 23% increase over the prior year.

With this new update, interim housing will allow a range of temporary housing that includes emergency shelters, transitional housing, bridge housing, and safe parking sites.

“The update will establish a general operation standard for interim housing,” Lopez said. “They [will] include a coordinated assessment system to connect residents to services and networks.”

The updated shelter and emergency shelter plan will allow kitchens in religious facilities. With facilities like these, there will be a range of supporting amenities such as property storage and facilities for pets.

“Emergency shelters will be allowed as an accessory use and religious facilities and as a primary use of residential, industrial, commercial, and interstitial zones,” Lopez said.

Lopez also said that the new updates for transitional housing make it more flexible in regards to lengths of stay and services populations. Current transitional housing provides temporary housing up for six to 24 months for people and families until permanent housing can be accommodated.

Not everyone was looking forward to these changes. A few people expressed their concern about city density.

“If anything that COVID-19 has taught us is that we should not be increasing density,” said Janet West, a member of the public. “These new ordinances will increase density especially with the major increases to the density law for low-income housing.”

Another community member, Dave Shukla, disagreed with West.

“Density does not mean overcrowded and that is a very important thing in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Dave Shukla, a member of the public. “We want people to live and live well and live safely. We are doing just fine in downtown. We are building more buildings.” 

Long Beach is also planning to add new safe parking sites. The city already has one of these parking sites available, which provide a safe place for people to park overnight while working towards permanent housing.

“What we were trying to do was formalize the opportunity for that use [safe parking sites],” said Christopher Koontz, deputy director of development services. “These are typically an accessory use, which means you have a primary use. It could be a church most commonly and it might be a different type of use [like] social services use and even a retail use and they allow folks that are living in their vehicles to safely park overnight.”

Koontz said the goal of safe parking is to prevent residents from falling into the cycle of homelessness and to improve health and quality of life for residents and neighborhoods.

 “What we are trying to do is have it occur in safe locations with specific standards like waste and noise control,”  Koontz said. “What we are trying to accomplish is for people who are living in their car to park overnight without being towed.”

Finally, the update plan for social service facilities will expand opportunities that will include showers and storage facilities, amenities for pets, and meal services, job counseling, mail service, and child care for people and their families.

“I am really happy to see this come before us,”  District 2 Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce said. “In my four years of the council, we’ve consistently tried to identify new locations. We consistently have conversations about where else in the districts in the city we can put some of these transitions supporting housing and safe parking.”  

But some residents of Long Beach are still not convinced that this new ordinance that the council approved is the right move for Long Beach.

“I object to this zoning update,” West said. “This will change our city and it will forever.”

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