LA Is Getting Two Homeless Shelters Made From Shipping Containers
Los Angeles declared a homeless shelter crisis in April 2018. Shortly after, City Council President Herb Wesson was the first councilmember to step forward with a plan to bring bridge housing to his 10th District. The Koreatown neighborhood was poised to lead the way for the rest of the city.
Roughly a year later, after fierce protests from an outraged Korean community, threats to recall the long-serving councilman, a walk-back from the original plan (aka moving it out of Koreatown) and months of studying, bridge housing in District 10 is finally taking shape. And that shape is quite boxy.
Draft designs for one of the recently approved shelters -- dubbed "Hope at Lafayette" -- obtained by LAist show a plan to build living spaces out of shipping containers, enough to house 70 people.
The new emergency homeless shelter will fill the lower triangle at Lafayette Park bordered by Wilshire Boulevard, Hoover Street and South Lafayette Park Place.
Technically speaking, the future bridge housing site is part of the Westlake neighborhood, though it's just outside the border of Koreatown. Adding to the confusion, three neighborhood council districts -- Rampart Village, Wilshire Center / Koreatown and MacArthur Park -- all share jurisdiction over Lafayette Park.
Peter DeMaria, project architect and creative design director for HBG Steel/Azria Home, said the goal is to create a shelter that will serve the entire community -- both the people struggling with homelessness and the neighborhood residents that have stepped up in support.
"When I made the presentation to the folks there in Koreatown, we didn't know what we were walking into," DeMaria told LAist. "I know there was a previous proposal and... it didn't go so well. That might be the understatement of the year."
But the architect said he was encouraged by the positive reception from residents.
"We can provided all these nice renderings and designs, but these people have been receptive to it and that in and of itself is commendable," he said.
The housing units will be constructed from about 35 containers, or "steel modules" as DeMaria calls them, since they're really a hybrid of a traditional steel container and more traditional building materials, which are used inside. The units will be built almost entirely off-site before being "delivered and placed on the foundation" at the park.
The site will also include a pet area, bathrooms, offices, storage for people's belongings and outdoor dining space. The entire shelter is "designed to be relocated if it has to be," DeMaria said.
DeMaria's firm also designed and will put together a second bridge housing site in Wesson's district, which was approved for the parking lot at his office in the Harvard Heights / Arlington Heights area.
That shelter, at 1819 S. Western Ave., is set to house women and children with up to 18 beds. About $1.5 million has been alloted for the project, according to District 10 spokesman Michael Tonetti.
The Lafayette Park site will cost approximately $5.5 million and is expected to open in the fall, according to a spokesperson from Wesson's office. Although city officials have marketed this and other bridge housing projects to residents with the understanding that they'll operate for no more than three years, a district official noted that it is possible the shelter could remain in place longer.
"It will be up to the community and next (District 10) Councilmember," the official said.
It's obvious that several communities have a stake in the project. That's something DeMaria said the site will pay tribute to at both shelters in the form of art. Space for large portraits are planned above each housing unit's doorway. The plan is to feature images of "unsung heroes" in the community that are making a difference, he explained.
Large towers made from stacked shipping containers are planned for two corners of the site, featuring multi-story, public-facing portraits. Concept renderings depicted Charlie Chaplin as "The Tramp" (DeMaria said he was inspired by how the 1915 silent film humanized its homeless main character) as well as Olympic gold medalist and Southern California native Chloe Kim.
The development firm has another homeless housing project underway in the Westlake district, where they're building a permanent 84-unit apartment complex from shipping containers.
DeMaria said creating physical shelters is the easy part; the more important goal is building something intangible -- a sense of hope.
"I think we have a larger responsibility where not only do we shelter folks -- we've got to give them an opportunity to grow, to develop... to move beyond that place that we've created," he said. "We're hoping that's what it's doing, besides just giving them a place to sleep at night."
Reporter Josie Huang contributed to this story.