The old saying about society being judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members carries a moralistic tone.
Let’s recast it in practical terms that matter a great deal to the community of business when it comes to homelessness in Los Angeles.
Start with the recent furor over a decision to put a homeless shelter on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown. It appears to have subsided thanks to a deal worked out between 10th District City Councilmember and Council President Herb Wesson and members of the Korean-American community who opposed the plan.
The new approach calls for a homeless shelter in Lafayette Park. The park is at the very edge of Wesson’s territory, which spreads southwest from the Westlake district just west of downtown, going through Koreatown, into parts of the Mid-City area, and on to Leimert Park – with no shortage of the cartographic meanderings that come with gerrymandering.
Westlake is cramped – it needs all the park space it can get, including the tennis court that has been designated as the ground for the homeless shelter. Lafayette Park is barely in Wesson’s district, by the way, jutting over from the eastern edge of Koreatown into Westlake. It’s nearly surrounded by the 1st District – represented by Councilmember Gil Cedillo – which stretches from Westlake over Chinatown, Echo Park, Lincoln Heights and other neighborhoods to the northeast.
Cedillo is now at work on plans to meet an obligation for each of the city’s 15 councilmembers to find room for developments of “permanent supportive housing” for as many as 222 homeless individuals. Early word indicates Cedillo has a couple of sites in mind for his district – both in Westlake, within a couple of miles of Lafayette Park.
Neither Cedillo nor Wesson responded to requests for comment on this matter.
That leaves it for us to mention that one of the points of the city’s plan was to spread out the shelters – an attempt to mitigate the sort of problems seen in Skid Row, where homelessness has been concentrated.
It appears the city’s new plan is failing Westlake, which seems set up to take on more than its share of homeless, for all intents and purposes.
The proposal for Lafayette Park appears to be technically in line with city rules.
The spirit of the move seems something else, though – it looks as though the problem of homelessness has been shunted over to the neighborhood with the least money and, therefore, the least influence.
That might reflect the practical reality of politics at the moment.
A practical assessment of the marketplace reminds us, however, that Westlake’s potential is enormous, with the Downtown renaissance on one side and vibrant Koreatown on the other. Start in Santa Monica and head toward the city’s center along Wilshire and you’ll see that Westlake is the last candidate for revitalization along that east-west corridor.
There’s practically no other opportunity like Westlake in the city – and plenty of practical reasons to rethink the homeless shelter there.