Can The President Make The Army Say Yes To A Homeless Shelter In Sherman Oaks?

Back in August 2018, District 4 Councilman David Ryu first proposed using a portion of land at 5161 Sepulveda Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, owned by the U.S. Army, as an emergency homeless shelter under Mayor Eric Garcetti's bridge housing initiative. (Courtesy Councilman Ryu's office)

A plan to build an emergency homeless shelter in Sherman Oaks fizzled back in March, but now Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu is hoping President Trump can help the project make a comeback. He might be a little busy today. But still.

In a letter sent to the president on Thursday, Ryu said he was pleased to see the federal government acknowledge California's homelessness crisis, and offered Trump a tangible opportunity to help: grant access to federally-owned land, including a location at 5161 Sepulveda Blvd., so the city can build more shelters.

"If you are interested in solutions to homelessness, I urge you to allow us access to this underused lot," Ryu wrote. "If you are interested in scoring political points to the detriment of those experiencing homelessness and the communities in which they live, please look elsewhere."

The Sepulveda Boulevard site is the one that got away from Ryu and his staff.

The land is owned and managed by the U.S. Army but has long been sitting empty.

The site was recommended by the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council and the homeowner's association after Ryu sought their support to shelter homeless residents in the San Fernando Valley community.

Ryu, who represents L.A.'s 4th Council District, first proposed building a temporary shelter there as part of Mayor Eric Garcetti's bridge housing initiative back in August 2018.

A petition, an unruly protest at a neighborhood meeting, and threats to recall the District 4 councilman followed, but city leaders weathered the outrage and took strides to begin a feasibility study.

But the Army wasn't making it easy.

Initially, city officials opened a dialogue and came to an agreement that staff would soon be granted access for a study. Then the Army walked back the agreement, citing security protocol concerns, as mentioned in an October letter from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. After that, the dialogue stopped.

In March, District 4 finally cut its losses, with Ryu saying the proposal is "no longer considered a viable option" in a letter to constituents. The councilman cited the Army's "unwillingness to help" local officials as they grappled with rising homelessness in the city.

But after Trump's recent visit to Los Angeles and comments about L.A. and other cities "destroying themselves by allowing" the homelessness crisis to worsen, Ryu and his team decided to try a new approach.

"President Trump has expressed repeated interest in L.A.'s homelessness crisis, but I haven't seen a lot of discussion around the most obvious solution — opening up federally owned land here," District 4 spokesman Mark Pampanin told LAist. "I mean, the president keeps slamming us to do something about homelessness, and here's a city councilmember who has been trying to bring bridge housing to an empty lot owned by the federal government for over a year. What gives?"

Elsewhere in Ryu's district, one homeless shelter is open and another is under construction in Hollywood — both of which predate the mayor's program. A third site is being studied for an emergency shelter in Los Feliz.

The White House did not return our request for comment.

You can read Councilman Ryu's full letter to President Trump below:


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