Talk Of Housing For Homeless In Arcadia Stirs Controversy
It’s not just Los Angeles. Its suburbs are also struggling mightily with what to do about growing homelessness.
A proposal to build tiny homes in the wealthy San Gabriel Valley city of Arcadia led to a face-off between dueling sides on Sunday in front of a city council member’s house.
“No Tiny Homes!” yelled the mostly middle-aged set against the plan.
“Housing Haters!” shouted back a group largely made up of high schoolers in support of the housing.
The city council is studying the idea of installing 15 or so tiny homes on a dusty access road to the Santa Anita Wash to serve as emergency shelter for unhoused residents. Officials have been grappling with the results of their homelessness count, up from 15 in 2018 to 106 in 2020 — more than a 600% increase.
Council member April Verlato said the jump can be partly attributed to a more accurate homeless count conducted by police officers, who took over from volunteers a couple years ago. But she noted that homelessness is also growing regionally. Arcadia draws some unhoused people to the area because of Gold Line access, a regional hospital, and the wash, where people can set up encampments, said Verlato, who supports the tiny homes proposal.
“This is about protecting people — both those who live on the street and those who live in houses,” Verlato said. “When we have encampments, we have no restrooms, no showers, no hygiene. It's very unsanitary.”
The pilot project would be paid for by grants, the amount yet to be determined. A vote on the plan is not expected for months.
But opponents such as Michelle Wu mobilized as soon as they heard about the project a couple of weeks ago. They’re convinced that building tiny homes will signal that Arcadia welcomes unhoused people and lead to more homelessness and crime in a city known for its good schools and expensive houses.
“When we see the homeless people, we don't feel safe,” said Wu, who was accompanied by a dozen other protesters. “You know, those homeless people have mental problems. They have, like, alcohol, drug problems.”
It's not just LA. Its ‘burbs are debating what to do about growing homelessness.— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) May 16, 2021
A proposal to build tiny homes in wealthy Arcadia leads to a face-off in front of councilmember’s house.
“No Tiny Homes!” yells one side.
“Housing Haters!” shouts the other. pic.twitter.com/68dCiz3SvI
This weekend, Wu's group protested outside the homes of council members. On Sunday, they were met by supporters of the proposed project outside the house of city council member Roger Chandler (who did not appear to be home).
Arcadia High School junior Becky Chen helped lead a group of more than 15, mostly fellow students affiliated with the progressive Sunrise Movement.
“We believe that housing should be a basic need,” Chen said.
Critics say the tiny homes are too small, and argue those communities are an attempt to segregate the population from housed neighbors and justify the dismantling of encampments.
Chen agreed that the proposal “is not the complete one-size-fits-all solution, but it's definitely getting somewhere.”
The tiny home proposal appeals to Veronica Steele, who says she's been living on the streets of the San Gabriel Valley for eight years.
Steele said the attraction is not the tiny homes themselves, which she said resemble “cells,” but their location in Arcadia. She said she grew up in Monrovia and Pasadena and would ideally like to stay in the San Gabriel Valley and find a job here once she gets permanent housing.
“It’d be great and awesome for those who don't want to leave this area and have lived here all their lives," Steele said, "and just caught an unfortunate break."
If approved, project coordinators at Union Station Homeless Services would prioritize housing for those people already living in the area.
The council plans to pay for any tiny homes with grants from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and the San Gabriel Regional Housing Trust. Verlato said the city council is awaiting a price tag for the project before voting on the matter.