February 28, 2023
Open Letter to the Community Regarding Silverado Shelter:
As we all see every day, homelessness in our society has reached a crisis stage. While always a concern, prior to the pandemic efforts to address homelessness were going in the right direction. Homelessness was decreasing with each biannual count, the economy was improving, new strategies were funded, and progress on assisting people experiencing homelessness continued. The City passed the Everyone Home Plan – a comprehensive approach to addressing our challenges together, and we got to work on implementation.
The pandemic changed everything. Rather than continuing the decline, the City saw a historic 62% increase as more and more people fell into homelessness. Despite adding more than 500 emergency and interim shelter beds during the pandemic, a historic feat and exceeding the goal set in the Everyone Home Plan, the demand continued to exceed the available beds. Housing prices skyrocketed in California, a 42% percent increase in median housing price in Los Angeles County from 2017 to 2023, making housing even more unaffordable. And we soon witnessed the impacts on our streets, in our parks, to our residents, to our businesses.
Addressing the Emergency
Earlier this year the City leapt into action, for the first time treating this as the emergency it is. The City Council ratified an emergency proclamation – over 100 top City staff and leaders were activated to quickly bring solutions. An emergency Winter Shelter was set up in East Long Beach at Community Hospital with 81 beds – which filled to capacity within a week. Outreach efforts with nurses, outreach workers and mental health practitioners increased. The City’s nationally recognized Multi-Service Center (MSC) brought services into the community through a new mobile access center that starts intake to the MSC and provides direct services, meeting people where they are. We visited hundreds of people with offers of service. We engaged property owners to place more than 400 people with emergency housing vouchers with permanent housing. Yet our shelter remained full. Read more about our efforts over the past 2 months here.
Creating a Second Emergency Shelter
To meet the need, we drew up plans to expand the winter shelter capacity. On February 2, 2023, the City announced that it was planning to open a temporary emergency winter shelter at Silverado Park to nearly double bed capacity after opening its first 2022/23 winter shelter at the old Community Hospital building in December 2022. Silverado was chosen as it is in the City’s long-standing emergency shelter plan. Long Beach has three gyms identified as shelter opportunities in the event of a disaster, such as earthquakes, fires, or any other emergency. Of those, Silverado has the best facilities – it has a large gym, the most capacity, a community center where other programs can continue while the gym is in use, and showering facilities at the adjacent pool. We created plans to offset any anticipated impacts, allowing community programs to continue, make improvements to the park after the shelter closed, creating a self-contained design with shuttle access, and a plan to move open-gym hours to a local school gym.
Building Community Partnership
The City has a strong history of outreaching to communities when setting up permanent shelters, but less so for temporary shelters. In this case, because of the need for additional beds during the cold weather, we were hyper focused on the task at hand – quickly supporting people experiencing homelessness in an emergency through a temporary solution. We acknowledge we did not pause to consider other possible implications including the fear and misperceptions of people experiencing homelessness. We missed our community’s voices and concerns. For permanent sheltering/interim housing opportunities in the past, we worked closely with community members. When we opened our first year-round shelter in North Long Beach at the Atlantic Farms Bridge Housing Community shelter, we sat in people’s living rooms to dispel myths, answered questions, and talked about the long-term impacts. When we converted a hotel in East Long Beach and Downtown to permanent housing, there was time and space to perform significant outreach as those were permanent new additions to the neighborhood. In this case, which was for a temporary 3-month shelter, we acknowledge that that same level of outreach did not occur and it is now clear the community expected it. No matter the circumstances, temporary or permanent, community engagement and input must be acknowledged and incorporated as it is essential to our joint success as we overcome this incredible societal challenge.
Decision to Not Place a Shelter in Silverado Park
Today, we are announcing that there will not be a temporary emergency winter shelter at Silverado Park. After hearing from the surrounding community, it was evident that converting a programmed community asset such as the gym in an area that does not have a lot of green space would result in significant loss of access of a community asset, even temporarily.
Thank You to Councilmember Uranga
We want to thank Councilmember Uranga for his constant support of those who are most in need, and for helping to both recognize the needs of the emergency and the impacts these tough decisions have on the community, and helping us better navigate outreach models and community consensus building in the future.
The Crisis Continues
However, the immediate need still exists and the City of Long Beach is still in an emergency state related to homelessness as proclaimed on January 10, 2023. Just this past Friday, a person experiencing homelessness passed away due to exposure. We must do more to prevent more of the same during the stormy weeks ahead. Due to the extreme cold and other weather conditions, the City temporarily activated its Multi-Service Center as a place where 60 people can rest overnight in a warm place. Beds will be available through at least Sunday, March 5, but this cannot be a long-term solution given the growth in demand for MSC daily services as well. We must continue to move ahead with urgency on additional shelter solutions.
The City will continue to work on a path forward to add more temporary and permanent shelter beds to get closer to meeting the needs of our community who are unhoused. We will do this in a more collaborative way with our community leaders and key stakeholders. We will continue to maintain our focus, while collaborating with the community on approach. Throughout this week, the Mayor will help convene various community members and stakeholders across the City to generate solutions and consensus on how we, together as a community, can help people right now with their journey back into housing and supportive services. We will continue to look at plans to bring additional temporary bed space to our community so our homelessness response can continue. Though we will continue to move quickly, because the times call for it, we are also committed to make sure community leaders and stakeholders are part of the conversation and solution, as it is going to take everyone to help uplift people back into stability and ultimately permanent housing.
For more information on the City’s efforts to reduce homelessness in Long Beach, people may visit longbeach.gov/homelessness and follow @lbhealthdept and @longbeachcity on social media and follow the hashtag #EveryoneHomeLB.
Mayor Rex Richardson
City Manager Tom Modica