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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Arcadia, the “Community of Homes”, starkly divided on helping the homeless

Arcadia, the “Community of Homes”, starkly divided on helping the homeless

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There’s a moderately new homeless encampment at 2nd Ave and Colorado Blvd., in Arcadia. Scores of people have set up temporary dwellings below the freeway along the pylons next to the Santa Anita Wash, much to the chagrin of their neighbors.

The size is not staggering, not the level seen in so many Los Angeles communities, but it still put Arcadia at a crossroads. 

The homeless encampment at 2nd and Colorado in Arcadia. Photo by Terry Miller.

On May 6, the city of Arcadia held a public forum to address the issues at hand.  The more than 4 hour meeting displayed homeowners’ unhappiness with not only the location of the encampment but also the city’s proposal to help these unhoused individuals.

That way comes in the form of the Tiny Shelter project. The plan would involve building a village of “tiny homes” on county land at the Peck Park access road site. The city website states, emphatically, that the project has “NOT” yet been approved.

On Saturday morning, around 30 Arcadia residents gathered outside city council members’ homes to voice their collective arguments, particularly with the proposed tiny home project.

Scores of angry residents protested outside the homes of Arcadia city council members Saturday – Photo by Terry Miller

The Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) mindset has been a voice against California cities for decades, and remained loud and clear at the demonstration.

The irony of the protests wasn’t lost on one supporter of the tiny homes project.

“A decade or so ago people in the ‘Community of Homes’ were protesting McMansions in Arcadia and now they’re protesting development of ‘Tiny Homes’ to assist those less fortunate…wow,” said the Arcadia resident, who preferred not to be named.

Arcadia Weekly caught up with the vocal group of protestors opposed to the Tiny Shelter project outside councilmember April Verlato’s home around noon on Saturday.

Chanting “No Tiny Homes” repeatedly, the large group led by attorney Michelle Wu questioned Arcadia city council member April Verlato’s support for the tiny homes project. Verlato also serves as a boardmember of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Homelessness Committee.

Holding pre-printed and handwritten banners in English and Mandarin, the demonstrators’ demand is no tiny homes be built, citing unfounded fear that a homeless shelter in Arcadia would bring more homeless into the community and endanger the city’s children.

Verlato sounded off recently on Facebook after scores of residents filed complaints with councilmembers and using Facebook’s ‘megaphone’ to politicize their agenda.

 “This is just a few feet away from the backyards of homes on 2nd Ave. I believe homeless encampments will devalue property in Arcadia. Who wants to buy a home with a homeless encampment visible from the backyard? I also believe this is not a healthy or safe environment for those experiencing homelessness. I have received numerous complaints from neighbors who are experiencing the negative impacts of this homeless encampment. This is County of LA property. It is very difficult to get the County to respond. Our Arcadia Police Homeless Task Force has been out to this site. Our Case Manager has been out to this site. The City of Arcadia can try to get permission to do a clean-up of this site, but that means the City posts notice that everyone there has 72 hours to move their stuff or else the City will confiscate it, catalog it and store it unless it is deemed “trash”,

This is the law. What the city has witnessed and experienced in doing these clean-ups, people just move their stuff to the other side of the wash or move farther down the wash and set up. They come back a few days, weeks or months later. Why? Because they are still homeless. Pursuant to Martin v. Boise, the City of Arcadia cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances and the City of Arcadia cannot arrest someone for sleeping overnight on public land unless the city can offer shelter. The City cannot “move” homeless (pick them up and drop them off in another city). Lancaster got sued for doing this. The State and County provide funding for housing for homeless. They do not provide funding for policing the homeless. You can arrest someone for doing drugs in public in one of these encampments, but the voters of the State of California voted for prop 47 The Safe Schools and Neighborhoods Act which basically decriminalized illicit drug use, so drug users are booked and released and go right back to being on the street. AB 109, Prop 47 and Prop 57 were all passed in an effort to reduce prison and jail populations because the State got sued for overcrowding. These laws worked. Sentencing and penalties were reduced and less people are in jails and prisons. I believe a portion of the population of those that are unhoused were once “housed” in our jails and prisons from drug use. They are no longer “housed” and now left to live on the streets. I have spoken to some of the people living in these tents at 2nd and Colorado and they have told me that if housing were available, they would take it. They would not go to Downtown LA and stay in one of the shelters there. The closest shelters in the San Gabriel Valley are Pasadena and Pomona. Both of those are at capacity and have waitlists with those that are in the respective cities. Maybe those at 2nd and Colorado need mental health care, maybe they need rehab, maybe they just need a few months to save up money to afford to pay for their own housing. Tiny Homes provides a safe place to sleep, eat, shower and have access to a plethora of services such as case management, housing navigation, workforce development, medical care, mental health assessments, 24/7 security. It’s all paid for by the State and County. Where should those who are unsheltered go while they wait for housing or a bed in rehab? If not Tiny Homes, then what? If not in Arcadia, then how does the City enforce its anti-camping ordinance? #thisisarcadiaca #tinyhomes #therearetwosidestoeverystory #homelessnessawareness “

San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Homelessness Committee is tracking several bills aiming to provide funding for those with mental health issues.  

“My biggest problem with those that are opposed to the tiny homes project is that many are the same people who complain to the City that we have a homeless problem, so now that the City proposes to try to address their concerns, this isn’t the solution they wanted and they have no viable solution to offer in place of it,” Verlato said. “I can’t keep receiving complaints about the negative impacts homelessness is having on our neighborhoods and not try to do something about it.  If the City does nothing, the homeless encampments will only get worse.  It’s what has been done in the past and looks where it has gotten us.”

April Verlato speaks with the High School paper on Saturday – Photo by Terry Miller

Last week, Sara Somogyi, Director of Recreation & Community Services for the Arcadia Parks Department, spoke to Arcadia Weekly on what’s being done to help the homeless in Arcadia.

“We are aware there are encampments along the wash in the County area of Arcadia on 2nd and Colorado,” Somogyi said. “Our case managers from Union Station Homeless Services and our Police Department’s HELP Team (Homeless Engagement and Liaison Program) have done outreach cooperatively and each on their own a number of times there, and as frequent as last week.”

But there aren’t always enough resources to meet the demand. According to Somogyi, waitlists for services can be up to six months long.

“There is a Homeless Resource Hub, it is located at the Par 3 Golf Course’s Parking Lot, at 620 E. Live Oak Avenue.  The hub services approximately 45 individuals per week,” Somogyi continued. “There are a number of services provided, according to case management/housing navigation, showers, laundry, job training, wound care, food, water, clothing, Wi-Fi access and charging stations.  They also provided Flu shots, Covid testing and Covid Vaccines.  The program is anticipated to operate through July.” 

Thankfully, there are people and agencies who are willing to help those less fortunate in the San Gabriel Valley. In Monrovia, the Foothill Unity Center offers an abundance of assistance to those facing homelessness. Another is the Union Station in Pasadena, mentioned above by Somogyi.

But the Tiny Shelter project may not be joining the ranks of the above-mentioned resources. A confidential source has told Arcadia Weekly that the city council may now vote to put a pause on the tiny home project and pursue alternative solutions to address homelessness in the community.

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