More Concerns About Homelessness Raised at Eastside Neighborhood Meeting

Residents of West Hollywood’s Eastside at a Neighborhood Watch meeting

Residents living on West Hollywood’s Eastside are worried about their safety and quality of life as the homeless population continues to grow and angry that a homeless encampment continues to exist on Poinsettia Place, between Romaine Street and Willoughby Avenue, just across the border in Los Angeles.

That was the message coming out of an Eastside Neighborhood Watch meeting held on Tuesday night at the Gateway Center (home of the Target store). The anger and frustration was nearly identical to that expressed a week ago at a Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch meeting of people living in Los Angeles north of Melrose Avenue and west of La Brea.

Residents expressed fears about physical violence from homeless people. They cited the March 4 stabbing death of a homeless man on La Brea Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard (another homeless person has been arrested and charged with that murder), as well as the September 2017 hatchet attack by a homeless man on a shopper at the 7-Eleven convenience store on Santa Monica Boulevard at Hayworth Avenue.

“We’re feeling broken and beaten,” said Tod Hallman, head of the Eastside Neighborhood Watch.

“We’re all on the edge that one of us is going to get our heads bashed in walking on the streets regardless of what city we’re living in,” said Peter Nichols who lives in Los Angeles on Gardner Avenue and co-founded the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch. “We’re scared. That’s what the issue is.”

Residents wondered should they carry weapons such as knives, tasers or pepper spray with them when they go out in their neighborhood.

Captain Sergio Aloma, head of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station, told the crowd of about 70 people that everyone has a right to defend himself, but said they should use caution when carrying weapons. He suggested they should ask themselves how proficient they are with that weapon, how often they practice with it and if they are prepared for someone to take that weapon from them and use it against them.

Difficult to Get Rid of the Encampment

Residents wanted to know what they can do about the homeless encampment that has sprung up on Poinsettia Place in the past year and grown to several dozen tents in recent weeks. Aloma explained that encampment is located in Los Angeles (the West Hollywood border is at Romaine Street in that block of Poinsettia Place) and therefore his office has no jurisdiction there.

Robert Oliver, a field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the area, reported that Los Angeles and West Hollywood have different rules and approaches for dealing with the homeless.

“We’re working with every legal tool to address the encampment on Poinsettia,” said Oliver, who reported that the homeless problem is Koretz’s top priority.

West Hollywood Sheriff’s Capt. Sergio Aloma

Oliver explained that the City of Los Angeles lost a 2016 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding homeless people. As part of the settlement, rules are in place to protect the rights of the homeless that make it difficult to get rid of an encampment.

In Los Angeles, people are allowed to erect tents between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Outside of those hours, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers can tell people to take the tents down, but they are still allowed to sit on the sidewalk throughout the day.

Under the settlement, an outreach team must approach people living in an encampment three times, offering them access to services, before it can do a clean-up of the area. After that, only employees of the city’s Sanitation Bureau can touch a homeless person’s personal property and determine what is trash and what must be stored.

“Sweeps” to rid an area of homeless encampments only have short-term effects, and homeless people tend to return within a few days. Last week, Los Angeles crews attempted to conduct such a sweep of the Poinsettia encampment, but rains prevented them from forcing all the people out since the ACLU settlement says they cannot force a homeless person out of a tent into the rain.

West Hollywood, which is not bound by the Los Angeles homeless settlement, does not allow people to erect tents in its city limits. Sheriff’s Lt. Edgar Ramirez said WeHo has laws allowing deputies to be more aggressive with the homeless, which is why large encampments do not form within the WeHo city limits.

Tents sheltering homeless people near Poinsettia Park

Homelessness Knows No Boundaries

Concerned residents pointed out that while the encampment may be in Los Angeles, but boundaries between the two cities do not make any difference to homeless people who go throughout the neighborhoods of both cities. Of particular concern are car break ins, trespassing on property, taking over empty or abandoned buildings, urinating or defecating in public and leaving used drug needles in yards or on sidewalks.

Aloma said that if people find used needles, they should call the sheriff’s station and deputies will come get the needles. He said people should NOT pick up a needle and put it in a trash because people could accidently prick themselves if they plunder through a trash can.
Residents asked about a homeless person found dead of an apparent drug overdose on Tuesday morning in Poinsettia Park. Aloma indicated he had not heard about the death until that moment, reminding people that Poinsettia Park is the LAPD’s jurisdiction.

Several residents wondered why the Sheriff’s department and LAPD weren’t working together to share more information, especially about things that happen just a few feet across the border.

WeHo Councilmember Lauren Meister briefly discussed some of the actions West Hollywood is taking to combat the homeless problem, but residents wanted to know why West Hollywood and Los Angeles were not coordinating their efforts.

“We’re all being affected by the transient population one way or another. It’s not just the tents, it’s the trespassing and encampments and abandoned property. That’s happening in West Hollywood [and Los Angeles],” said Peter Nichols. “We’re all frustrated, and maybe there’s a way cohesively we can try to get together. I don’t know if it’s a safety summit between [the two cities].”

Meister said West Hollywood is trying to set up such a meeting with Koretz and Los Angeles city officials, but scheduling such a meeting takes time. That answer frustrated many who want quicker action.

Increasing Manpower, Quicker Trash Pickups

Resident Stephanie Harker asked if more manpower would help with safety issues on the Eastside. Aloma replied that increased visibility never hurts.

Meanwhile, David Agner of Block by Block, the private security firm the city employs to do bicycle patrols of the city, said he has about 30 “security ambassadors” working in the city, 12 of whom are now stationed on the Eastside. Agner said his ambassadors on the Eastside were originally assigned just to patrol Santa Monica Boulevard, but now are going into the residential areas as well.

One woman asked if they should take self-defense classes to protect against potential violent attacks by homeless people. Meister told the crowd she would investigate getting the city to sponsor such classes for residents.

Ruben Valenzuela of Athens Services, which contracts to do trash pickup in the city, reported his company had changed some of its policies in response to the homeless situation. Previously, pickups of old bulky items like sofas or mattresses were only done on certain days (usually Fridays). But now, residents can schedule a bulky item pickup any day.

That change was done because they do not want homeless people sleeping on sofas or mattresses left on the greenway beside the street. Athens also does not want to risk someone setting fire to the bulky items.

“If you call and say ‘homeless,’ we’re coming to pick it up,” said Valenzuela.

Improved Lighting

Residents asked about improving street lighting to help with safety, either with stronger bulbs or by trimming trees near street lights. Meister told the crowd that the city is in the process of purchasing the street lights from Southern California Edison, a process that has taken several years. Once that purchase is complete, the city can improve the lighting.

Another resident pointed out that the Poinsettia homeless encampment is directly in front of property owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). He suggested that if the DWP installed super-bright street lights (as bright as on the Las Vegas Strip) on its property, it might prevent homeless from sleeping and chase them away.

Takeover Poinsettia Park?

Meanwhile, resident Steve Martin, a former member of the West Hollywood City Council, said the City of Los Angeles is not using Poinsettia Park to its full potential. He suggested that the City of West Hollywood apply to take over administration of Poinsettia Park from Los Angeles. Martin noted that Paul Koretz made a similar proposal when he was on the WeHo City Council in the 1990s but nothing ever came of it. Now that Koretz is on the Los Angeles City Council, perhaps he could help make that transfer happen.

Fountain Avenue

Addressing another issue, Councilmember John D’Amico said that improvements are coming to Fountain Avenue in early summer, which should help reduce traffic accidents. D’Amico also said the City Council has reaffirmed that Fountain is a residential street, not a commercial street. By establishing it as a residential street, it is possible the city can lower the speed limit on Fountain from 35 mph to 30 mph, or possibly even lower.

Several residents suggested that another way to improve traffic flow at the intersection of La Brea and Santa Monica Boulevard, would be to install diagonal pedestrian crossings that would be used while all vehicles are stopped, similar to what is at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.

  1. I believe Cy has his finger on the pulse. The neoliberal policies of the last 40+ years have brought us to this place. The duopoly power structure of Democrats and Republicans is absolutely owned by corporate donors. The current capitalist system is the sickness and homelessness is but one of its symptoms. We have to find a kind and rational way to treat the symptoms while at the same time acknowledging that the homelessness problem will never go away if our society doesn’t come up with a more equitable “ism”. Not to mention the health of the planet!

    YouTube Ned Beatty’s speech from the movie Network if you want to know how things are.

    Thanks for listening!

  2. I am a clinical social worker who worked with homeless mentally ill people in West Hollywood and Hollywood throughout the 1990’s. It’s ironic that this meeting was held at Gateway Center. That was the site, in the mid-to late 1990’s, of West Hollywood Homeless Organization, which was eventually absorbed into PATH, after it was basically run into the ground by executive director Frank Paradise, who severely sexually harassed me at that time as I was a young clinical social worker just getting licensed in California as an LCSW (#metoo) (yes, still bitter, I admit). There were times when the organization couldn’t make payroll and it was chaos. HOWEVER, there was progress. It “worked” as an agency a good part of the time. It was an emergency shelter with about 40 beds, and it also had transitional housing (2-person) rooms, as well as case management services for linkage to General Relief, SSI, VA benefits, psychiatric help through LA County DMH, and a plan for self-sustainment. There was also a mobile outreach team that very slowly would build trusting relationships with homeless people and try to convince them to seek mental health care from Hollywood Mental Health (LA County DMH), or substance abuse services. When PATH absorbed the organization, the emphasis on West Hollywood waned, paving the way for the problem to re-emerge as it is now, combined with the fast-rising housing costs (in the 90’s, West Hollywood was still somewhat affordable, especially for young LGBT people seeking a sense of community support, despite the raging AIDS crisis years). We need something like WHHO again, only this time, with more oversight and more legitimate leadership. City Council candidate James Duke Mason and I have been discussing this, and he supports cultivating and implementing specific new programs such as this, funded by the City. We have to DO SOMETHING, and waiting on the City of Los Angeles to do more isn’t going to work. It has to be home-grown in West Hollywood. Replacing a shelter with a Target store is great for Target and for local shoppers, but the need for both emergency housing, transitional housing, and community outreach remains. The situation requires CASE MANAGERS for the people already homeless, and systemic changes to make housing more affordable to prevent it. (By the way, homeless people, especially the mentally ill, are the VICTIMS of violence by a large margin compared to when they are the perpetrators of it. People need to chill and stop being so paranoid that just because someone looks filthy or unfashionable doesn’t mean they are necessarily dangerous. Wearing last year’s Prada is not a reason to be pepper-sprayed, despite current West Hollywood sentiment.)

    1. …I’m chill but I’ve had a friend pushed into on-coming traffic by a mentally ill homeless person.
      I’ve had another punched in the face..out of nowhere.
      People with mental illness sometimes act violently..for not reason other than they’re having a bad moment …it’s not just paranoia.

      1. and I could careless if they’re dressed fashionably or are clean. I have a neighbor that doesn’t dress all that well and she’s not the cleanest…but I’m not worried that some morning she may stab me because she thinks I’m satan.

      2. Well affluent people of white European origin not considered to be suffering from any definable mental illness, have consistently acted violently toward indigenous people through out history for no just reason other than promoting their own self interests. This has resulted in full scale genocide and large populations of refugees …it’s not just paranoia! It’s happening today as I write about it!

        Massacre of protesters in Gaza!

  3. I found three typos: homeless man woman, Kortez’s, and
    …white (sic) the encampment…

    Captain Aloma seems to have his head on his shoulders, consistently.

    I wonder what the violence is – coming from our homeless population – versus our homed population.

    Good wrap up.

  4. One of the very few intelligent voices in the Homeless issue recently has come from the Mayor of Anaheim. It is relevant to all.

  5. What we have is an invasion. What we need is for the military to go in, put housing units put in place, and create shelters. This should be done across the state.

    1. That could work, if it was done in a humane way. or maybe another group like Red Cross. It’s just as urgent as a flood

  6. How long are we going to talk about this issue? how many articles are going to be written about it? West Hollywood has the money to build a facility in partnership with big money people like Wells Fargo and even get the Gay and Lesbian Center and others involved. But it appears that no one associated with the City, Elected or Employed has yet to come up with a solution. The City Council Members should take some of the money they get from Donors to their Campaigns (many of whom are from out of State) and spend it on this issue. We should take a look at the high Salaries we are paying City Employees, especially the six figure ones and see if we can cut some of that to use for this issue since they can’t seem to come up with any solutions to the problem. I met Corry Plank (spelling?) this morning at Coffee With Cops. She is working very hard to give opportunities to the homeless for temporary aid. I admire what she and her office is doing, but we need a huge, grand gesture by the City to build Partnerships with big funding and financing to build a Brick and mortar facility for the homeless. They are not going away. They are the “new normal” in America. We need to deal with them like any other City service such as light street lights and street repair.

    1. OT but related to your comment: Did you see the Mayor of Riverside is suing the City of Riverside because he thinks taxpayers are paying too much for the city manager’s salary or something like that?

    2. Please do consider that we currently have Empty Homes Outnumbering the Entire Homeless Population 6 to 1! What was once classified as “predatory lending” is now considered a free market strategy of generating wealth for corporate real estate moguls. Put simply we have the ultra wealthy playing a real world game of monopoly with our housing and, generating “imaginary wealth” at our expense. Not only are the resources already on hand to easily solve the housing crisis but, regulations are badly needed to curb if not outlaw speculation in “residential” properties. If elected could you do something about this and, at the very least bring attention to the issue?

        1. The article you mention, Cy is speaking of the entire country. I seriously doubt there are 60, 000 empty living spaces in LA. If, there ARE, why do we keep hearing there is a housing shortage?

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