Protesters Killed A Plan For A Koreatown Homeless Shelter. But That's Just The Beginning Of The Story

Homelessness is up 86% in Koreatown. Here's how the neighborhood has been responding.

By Josie Huang
Published August 1, 2019


James An never pictured he'd be doing this: kneeling on a wet sidewalk to help a shivering homeless man after a cold night of hard rain in Koreatown.

Now he was pulling soggy socks off the 52-year-old man's puffy, waterlogged feet. He grabbed him a new pair from his car.

"You can't be sleeping under this tarp anymore, man," An told Shawn Pleasants. "You're going to die, dude. Seriously."

An's concern about his homeless neighbors didn't build over a lifetime. He's part of an unprecedented wave of people in Koreatown who have started responding to the crisis just in the last year.

Some come to encampments bearing food and supplies. Others push for reforms of homeless policies at City Hall. Still others are running for office -- everything from the neighborhood council to county leadership -- and stumping for homeless fixes.

It can all be traced back to a single point in time last year, when L.A. leaders declared they would build a shelter in a bustling section of Koreatown and unleashed a citywide controversy.

ADVERTISEMENT

James An helps Shawn Pleasants out from under the tarp he used for cover from the rain. James An pours off the rainwater that had accumulated on Shawn Pleasants's tarp overnight.

James An helps Shawn Pleasants out from under the tarp he used for cover from the rain; An pours off the rainwater that had accumulated on Pleasants's tarp overnight. (Josie Huang/LAist)

The shelter plan, announced May 2018, came as tents were multiplying throughout the neighborhood. Today, nearly 600 people live on Koreatown's streets, according to the latest homeless count -- up about 86% over last year, a bigger jump than in Hollywood or Venice with their high concentrations of encampments.

Even as new luxury apartments sprout along Koreatown's boulevards at a breakneck pace, more and more people were being priced out or evicted, ending up homeless. Still, hundreds protested the shelter, mostly first-generation immigrants from Korea. Among them were churchgoers who feed and pray for homeless people.

They were angry their councilmember Herb Wesson had not consulted the community about the shelter -- another example, they said, of shoddy treatment by the city.

Members of the local Korean community protest against a proposal to construct a temporary homeless shelter in Koreatown on June 3, 2018. The Korean community is asking the L.A. City Council to hold public hearings to discuss and debate the issue. A homeless woman watches as members of the local Korean community protest against a proposal to erect a temporary homeless shelter in Koreatown on June 3, 2018. The Korean community is asking the L.A. City Council to hold public hearings to discuss and debate the issue.

Members of the local Korean community protest against a proposal to construct a temporary homeless shelter in Koreatown on June 3, 2018; A homeless woman watches protesters. The Korean community is asking the L.A. City Council to hold public hearings to discuss and debate the issue. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The protests worked -- by August 2018, the city moved the project outside of Koreatown.

By then, counter-protesters had started a grassroots organization to help homeless people. KTown for All does outreach and advocacy work and recently filed a federal lawsuit to stop the city from destroying property during sanitation sweeps of encampments.

Others found different reasons for volunteering. James An hadn't participated in the protests but he worried they were making Korean Americans look heartless.

"I'll be honest," An said of his initial decision to get involved. "It was like a publicity thing." (More on that later.)

Homelessness in Koreatown has grown about 86% since last year, according to homeless count data from the county.

Homelessness in Koreatown has grown about 86% since last year, according to homeless count data from the county. (James Bernal/LAist)

As for those who fought the shelter, the controversy had another effect: proving the need to have a seat at the table so they could make policy, not be the ones protesting it.

Two leaders of the protests are now running for office.

The clash over homeless housing is not unique to Koreatown. Venice and Sherman Oaks are among other L.A. neighborhoods that have seen similar blow-ups.

ADVERTISEMENT

Get The Best Of LAist In Your Inbox

Sign up for our daily newsletter to receive the latest on local politics, food, culture and the absurdities of L.A. life.

But Koreatown was the first battleground in the effort to place shelters beyond Skid Row and set homeless people on a faster, smoother path to permanent housing. The KTown conflict set a dissonant tone for the "bridge housing" campaign, which since has been moving at a sputtering pace.

But the fight turned out to be more than about any one shelter.

It also spoke to cultural and group dynamics, the political space Korean Americans occupy in L.A. and how the city's troubled past informs the present.

THE PROTESTERS
Members of the local Korean community protest against a proposal to construct a temporary homeless shelter in Koreatown on June 3, 2018.

Members of the local Korean community protest against a proposal to construct a temporary homeless shelter in Koreatown on June 3, 2018. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Double-click the PLAY button below to start the audio. Be patient -- it may take a moment to load.

When I first meet Shawn Pleasants, he spent the night in the rain. He tried to use this blue tarp for cover.

Last summer, Koreatown lawyer Chan Yong "Jake" Jeong could be found standing atop a flatbed truck leading protests on Wilshire Boulevard and blasting councilman Herb Wesson over the shelter site.

Today, Jeong is running against Wesson.

Both are vying for a soon-to-be-vacated seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Wesson is leaving his post as council president to make his bid for county politics.

"Whatever happened in Koreatown (about the shelter) was a kind of an awakening event," Jeong said.

And Wesson's current city council seat could end up being filled by another protest leader. Grace Yoo, an outspoken community leader and lawyer, is running to replace him. She ran against Wesson in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, the homelessness crisis and affordable housing feature prominently in both Yoo and Jeong's platforms.

Koreatown lawyer Jake Jeong led protests against a plan to build a shelter in a busy section of the neighborhood. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Wesson had angered the Korean American community before when he led the 2012 redistricting process that saw Koreatown split up between districts. Critics like Jeong and Yoo said then that the councilman was sapping the neighborhood's voting power.

Still, Wesson didn't expect to reignite the community's ire last year when he volunteered his district to be the first to get a "bridge housing" shelter. But the backlash was near-instant.

ADVERTISEMENT

The city-owned parking lot on 682 South Vermont is sandwiched between a luxury high-rise and a strip mall with restaurants and a specialty coffee shop.

Activists said the site was too close to commerce and schools, but they were just as upset by how Wesson had failed to consult their community before naming a location. They demanded public hearings.

Koreans make up no more than a third of the population of Koreatown -- it's majority Latino -- but the sense of ownership is evident in the name of the neighborhood, and the signs in Korean that dot the cityscape. Thousands of Korean Americans own businesses and property here. Others come every day to work, dine, play and worship.

Well-established community organizations such as the Korean Chamber of Commerce and the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles, or KAFLA, quickly came out against the shelter plan.

City officials planned to build a new shelter at 682 South Vermont in Koreatown.

City officials planned to build a new shelter at 682 South Vermont in Koreatown. (Josie Huang/LAist)

"People felt that it's an invasion of Koreatown, sort of trying to destroy this commercial prosperity within K-Town," said Laura Jeon, KAFLA's president.

Jeon herself initially supported the planned shelter location. Her background is in health and human services. But after Korean-language media reported that she had shown up at a news conference with Wesson announcing the site, her members forced her to apologize. And then, she began to speak out against the plan.

She said she gets why protesters were so angry: The Korean American community had rallied to rebuild Koreatown after the '92 riots destroyed hundreds of businesses. Many felt that Koreatown business owners had been left on their own to fend off fires and looting because the community lacked the political clout to command the city's full attention.

KAFLA president Laura Jeon said that the shelter plan "felt like an invasion of Koreatown." (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

So opponents of the plan for the homeless shelter said they had to stand up for themselves and the community. Hundreds marched waving signs that read:

"No Hearing, No Shelter"

"It's Due Process, Stupid!!"

"Impeach Wesson"

Late last June, dozens went to City Hall to say they were not against a homeless shelter, but furious that city officials were disregarding their concerns. Some threatened Wesson with recall.

The number of encampments in Koreatown has grown in recent years.

The number of encampments in Koreatown has grown in recent years. (James Bernal/LAist)

"Good people, do you know what's happening here in L.A.?" Wesson responded, his voice quivering with emotion. "We are driving past -- oh my God, we are driving past homeless people and we're not seeing them."

There were Korean Americans who saw it like Wesson did. The Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and the Korean Resource Center stood with the councilmember.

The difference in opinion led to negotiations mediated by the United Way. In early August, Wesson moved the site to neighboring Westlake. The shelter will be built on municipal tennis courts at Lafayette Park.

Homeless advocates like Mel Tillekeratne said the Lafayette Park site is much needed, but so is a shelter for Koreatown. The city's retreat from Koreatown, he said, set a bad precedent for the bridge housing campaign.

A panoramic view of the new Lafayette Park proposed shelter site. The new homeless shelter will fill the lower triangle at Lafayette Park bordered by Wilshire Boulevard, Hoover Street and South Lafayette Park Place.

A panoramic view of the new Lafayette Park proposed shelter site. (Josie Huang/LAist); The new homeless shelter will fill the lower triangle at Lafayette Park bordered by Wilshire Boulevard, Hoover Street and South Lafayette Park Place. (Courtesy HBG Steel/Azria Home)

"It proved to people that if you push enough opposition you can not only delay but you can completely push away a shelter that's supposed to be for people in need," said Tillekeratne, who runs the nonprofit Shower of Hope.

The success protesters had in keeping the shelter out of Koreatown did draw attention. Jeong said that he was contacted by opponents of homeless housing projects in Sherman Oaks, Venice and the Fashion District with questions about his efforts.

Jeong, who moved to the U.S. in 2004 to study at Loyola Law School, continues to make waves. The organization he founded to challenge the shelter site, Wilshire Community Coalition, has made news beyond the issue of homelessness. The group challenged the Los Angeles Unified School District over a school mural because of a design that reminded members of the flag of the Japanese imperial army, and the atrocities committed against Koreans during WWII.

"How about putting the same mural of like a big mushroom in Japantown?" Jeong said. "Do you expect they will be OK with that? No."

The controversial mural of Hollywood legend actress Ava Gardner by muralist Beau Stanton is situated at the Robert F. Kennedy Community School in Los Angeles.

The controversial mural of Hollywood legend actress Ava Gardner by muralist Beau Stanton is situated at the Robert F. Kennedy Community School in Los Angeles. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Wesson's office had no comment about Jeong's candidacy. But in an earlier conversation, the councilman said he had no regrets about the explosive shelter debate that brought him foes like Jeong.

"Because what it did, it elevated homelessness throughout the city of Los Angeles," Wesson said. "And you have people who a year ago really didn't pay any attention to it are now out there trying to help."

City councilmember Herb Wesson moved plans for a homeless shelter in Koreatown to neighboring Westlake. It's scheduled to open in the fall.

City councilmember Herb Wesson moved plans for a homeless shelter in Koreatown to neighboring Westlake. It's scheduled to open in the fall. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Wesson said the new shelter will be built with 70 beds at Lafayette Park by this fall. (He's also planning a shelter for women and children in the parking lot of his district office in Angelus Vista.)

Though the Lafayette Park shelter will be less than half a mile east of the original site, it will be a tough sell for homeless individuals like Shawn Pleasants.

Months after his harrowing night in the rain, Pleasants was still living at the same encampment. He wasn't interested in moving to a shelter in Lafayette Park, which he described as a world away.

"In this case, it's a million miles," Pleasants said. "Over here, I feel safe. Over there? Well, you got to look behind you."

He said after graduating from Yale in the late 80s, he had a home, and co-owned a digital imaging business. But health crises and the death of his mother, with whom he was extremely close, sent him spiraling. He ended up in Koreatown because he had friends here. It's been nine years now.

Shawn Pleasants, and his friend, Junior, by their tents on Hobart Street in Koreatown.

Shawn Pleasants, and his friend, Junior, by their tents on Hobart Street in Koreatown. (Josie Huang/LAist)

He cherishes the neighborhood, same as the protesters who were trying to shield it from a shelter. "It's modern, with it, hip, trendy, it's got its own rhythm and it's always on the go," Pleasants said. "It's never stale. It's always moving."

When he has his own place again, he said he wants it to be in Koreatown...home.

THE COUNTER-PROTESTERS
KTown for All volunteers gather donations to bring to encampments, many paid for out of their own pockets.

KTown for All volunteers gather donations to bring to encampments, many paid for out of their own pockets. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Double-click the PLAY button below to start the audio. Be patient -- it may take a moment to load.

Go to Koreatown on a Saturday and you can find small groups of people loaded up with food and supplies.

Go to Koreatown on a Saturday and you can find a couple dozen locals fanning across the neighborhood, loaded up with bags of items to give homeless people. They're with KTown for All, an organization founded by a diverse group of Angelenos who wanted to counteract the protests. People like Jane Nguyen.

On a recent run to encampments, Nguyen and her team stopped to talk to a gray-bearded man named Terry, who sat on a corner with a cane in his lap.

Jane Nguyen of KTown for All shares supplies and information about hot meals and showers with a man named Terry.

Jane Nguyen of KTown for All shares supplies and information about hot meals and showers with a man named Terry. (Josie Huang/LAist)

"It's a good day to be alive in Los Angeles!" he told them brightly, his speech slurred.

Nguyen offered him water, deodorant, a granola bar and information about where to get a hot meal and a shower.

Members of KTown for All meet to prepare bags of supplies before fanning out across Koreatown to distribute them to the homeless.

Members of KTown for All meet to prepare bags of supplies before fanning out across Koreatown to distribute them to the homeless. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Just a year ago, Nguyen would've hesitated to help because she felt she wasn't qualified. Her job is in fundraising, her side hustle is wedding photography. She also happens to be super-shy.

But Nguyen, who is 29, said the protests in Koreatown pushed her into action. She and her parents are refugees from Vietnam, and she hasn't forgotten the community support they got after arriving to the U.S. and settling outside Chicago.

"I've always thought that the right thing to do is to help other people in need," Nguyen said.

Jane Nguyen of KTown for All at 682 South Vermont, the site proposed for a homeless shelter in Koreatown. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Nguyen recognized that opposition to homeless housing crosses ethnic and racial lines. But as an Asian American she was especially sensitive to protests that have taken place in recent years in the Asian-majority communities of Irvine and Rosemead.

"I hate the fact that a lot of Asian American communities are so insular and they don't go out of their way to fight for social justice issues," Nguyen said.

Elsewhere in L.A., business investor and restaurant owner Johnny Byul Lee was mortified to hear fellow Korean Americans were organizing the protests.

"Oh man, my own people are showing no compassion," he thought. "I don't want everyone to think that that's how all of us are." He went to the first rally with a sign that read "Koreatown, Choose Love" handwritten in thick black marker -- the lone counter-protester. Some protesters yelled at him in Korean.

At the first protest against a planned shelter in Koreatown, Johnny Byul Lee was the lone counter-protester.

At the first protest against a planned shelter in Koreatown, Johnny Byul Lee was the lone counter-protester. (Courtesy Johnny Byul Lee)

"They were really mad at me because they felt like I (had) betrayed them," Lee said. "They also said 'You're not really Korean because if you were then you'd understand what we're doing."

Nguyen, who had been looking online for ways to show her support for the shelter, came across a photo of Lee and messaged him to say she'd join him at the next protest and bring reinforcements.

"It was like eight of us who showed up against a crowd of hundreds," Nguyen said. "So that was terrifying." One of the counter-protesters was Yongho Kim, who works at the Korean Resource Center. He blamed conservative, Korean-language TV and newspapers for stoking discord among its target audience of immigrants.

"This rhetoric was [that] there are all these poor and black people being dumped in Koreatown because nowhere else in the city are they wanted," Kim said. Kim, who lived in Korea until his teens, said homelessness is seen as deeply shameful, causing a person to "lose face."

"Koreans will try to use whatever social connections they have to avoid being out in the streets," Kim said. "They'll stay a few days at some relatives, stay a few days at their friends. As a result of that, people are not seeing (homeless Koreans) as much."

Counter-protesters pose together at the Wilshire/Vermont Metro stop.

Counter-protesters pose together at the Wilshire/Vermont Metro stop. (Courtesy KTown for All)

Throughout the rallies, protesters outnumbered counter-protesters. But over the next couple months, counter-protesters steadily grew in size. There was so much enthusiasm that even when the city moved its shelter plans out of Koreatown, the group stayed together to do street outreach and came to officially be known as KTown for All.

The group is racially-diverse and now counts 200 people among its members. They work in fields ranging from film to marketing and tech.

Near-weekly outings have provided members a way to do more than give away pocket change here and there.

"I look forward to the rhythm we've built up, the folks that I've met," said Fernando Antunez, who works at a law firm managing cases involving immigrants. "There's like a systematic approach. There's something we're chipping away at."

Fernando Antunez volunteers with KTown for All on a recent Saturday.

Fernando Antunez volunteers with KTown for All on a recent Saturday. (Josie Huang/LAist)

KTown for All is also organizing politically. They're advocating for affordable housing and are part of the Services Not Sweeps coalition of homeless advocates fighting how the city cleans up its streets. They say homeless people are losing important documents and medications during sanitation sweeps.

On July 18, KTown for All filed a federal lawsuit against the city along with seven homeless plaintiffs and another organization, the Association for Responsible and Equitable Public Spending. The suit challenges the constitutionality of an ordinance that authorizes city workers to seize items they deem "bulky."

For all their efforts, KTown for All members can sometimes feel like outsiders. During the last neighborhood council election, a couple dozen seats were up for grabs. Just two went to candidates on KTown for All's official slate. Most were filled by those endorsed by KAFLA, the group run by Laura Jeon. Nguyen had already run and lost when she saw that someone had posted a comment about an LAist video that featured her.

The commenter wrote Nguyen should go build a shelter in Little Saigon, not Koreatown. (The post has since been deleted by its author.)

"Sometimes I wish I could just change my last name," Nguyen said, with a little laugh. She paused.

"(I) probably shouldn't say that," she said. "Because I'm obviously proud of being Vietnamese American and don't want to hide that."

Nguyen is quick to refocus on her mission: keeping people safe and healthy until they can get into housing.

After hours of handing out supplies, she didn't feel like she was done. She ran out of hygiene wipes before everybody who wanted them got some. She turned back to the drugstore to buy more.

THE BOOSTERS
James An (left) and Steve Bae, a fellow Keep Koreatown alum and new KAFLA member, participate in the 2019 homeless count in Koreatown.

James An (left) and Steve Bae, a fellow Keep Koreatown alum and new KAFLA member, participate in the 2019 homeless count in Koreatown. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Double-click the PLAY button below to start the audio. Be patient -- it may take a moment to load.

I'll be honest. It was like a publicity thing.

James An began his street outreach around the same time as counter-protesters. But his reasons were complicated, fuzzier. He wanted to rehabilitate the image of Korean Americans after hearing them referred to as NIMBYs for opposing the shelter plan.

"Honestly, I didn't even know what a NIMBY was," An said. "I had to Google search it. Like, what is a NIMBY? 'Not-in-my-backyard.'

A year ago, An's interaction with homeless people had been mostly limited to the Koreatown diner he used to run with his family. A few times, he hired homeless men to wash dishes. But often it was him kicking people out of the restrooms for taking drugs, or using the sinks to bathe or shave -- "like a bird fountain, you know?"

Homelessness was something he lived with, bemoaned -- not something he could try to fix.

Besides, he was busy working on another issue that had nothing to do with homelessness: an election over whether to split Koreatown's neighborhood council into two.

Bangladeshi Americans in Koreatown wanted a second council with Little Bangladesh in the name. But opponents in the Korean American community argued that would weaken their political voice in the very place they worked to rebuild after the '92 riots. (Some mistakenly believed the election would shrink Koreatown's boundaries.)

James An has become an emerging community leader in Koreatown. (Josie Huang/LAist)

An helped lead the "Keep Koreatown" campaign to defeat the push for a second council. Organizers skillfully waged their crusade over social media and at Korean-centric events like the KTown Night Market. They also rebutted suggestions they were being xenophobic.

They won -- big.

More than 20,000 people voted in the election, many driving in from all over southern California to cast ballots. (Residency was not a requirement.) The initiative went down by a whopping 98% margin.

After that landslide win, An and his fellow organizers had a platform they wanted to keep using for the good of the community.

With shelter protests still raging, An said they decided to bring food and supplies to encampments and "hopefully get an article in the paper saying 'Hey, there's actually some Korean Americans out there who are sympathetic to this situation."

An had noticed more and more tents while driving to work and taking his toddler daughter to daycare. But he was still stunned by what he saw up close.

"There was a lady who was sleeping in her own feces -- like, she had defecated in her tent," An said. "That was when I kind of decided personally, 'OK, we need to try to do whatever we can."

He had just been given a big bullhorn. Jeon of KAFLA had just recruited An, who's 38, and other younger American-born leaders from the Keep Koreatown campaign to join her federation's graying, mostly-immigrant board.

"I persuaded them that it's their responsibility to take on the torch, inherit this enormous task to take on (for) the next generation," Jeon said.

While the federation had fought the shelter plan, the new members wasted no time organizing a blanket drive and delivering meals at Christmastime, which included bulgogi. An was among those who participated in the county's annual homeless count in late January.

They've also been able to harness the giving power of the Korean American community. At the KAFLA offices, a storage room is stacked to the ceiling with donations from locals and Korean corporations like Hanmi Bank and Nongshim, the instant noodle-maker.

Donations for the homeless, including boxes of instant noodles, fill the storage room at the offices of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KAFLA).

Donations for the homeless, including boxes of instant noodles, fill the storage room at the offices of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KAFLA). (Josie Huang/LAist)

An has leaned on his own friends. One donated a laptop computer so a homeless person could practice typing before returning to the workforce. Another friend who owns a collegiate wear company gave away two pallets of clothes.

"If you go to MacArthur Park right now there are probably 100 homeless people wearing Virginia Tech sweaters that are brand-new," An said.

An always keeps some donations in the trunk of his Volvo sedan. He never knows when they'll come in handy.

James An stays prepared with a cache of supplies for Koreatown's homeless in his car's trunk.

James An stays prepared with a cache of supplies for Koreatown's homeless in his car's trunk. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

One drizzly day, he brought a tarp to Maria Dimitriou. He met her last year doing outreach and they would always swap cute stories about their little girls. Because she's lost custody of hers, her smiles can quickly turn into tears.

"Stop crying!" An said to her, in a playful reprimand. "Why you always cry?"

"I miss my baby," Dimtriou said. "That's my mini-me."

"I gotta stop talking to you. Every time I talk to you you start crying and then I'm going to get emotional," An said.

Perhaps the toughest thing for An, though, is when he meets homeless people who are Korean. It's rare when he does -- Asians are roughly 1% of the homeless population in L.A. County. The first time he assisted a Korean on the streets, "It was like, emotionally just like mind-blowing."

"It's just sad that a community can't take care of their own," An said.

An has been working with one Korean American man, Albert Lee, to find housing. They connected after An's friend saw Lee at her church, and asked for An's help.

The two men met up one recent morning at MacArthur Park, where An regularly volunteers at the mobile showers run by Shower of Hope.

Albert Lee talks about housing with James An after washing up at mobile showers provided at MacArthur Park.

Albert Lee talks about housing with James An after washing up at mobile showers provided at MacArthur Park. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Lee, 37, said he feels like other Korean Americans look down on him because he's homeless. But he's comfortable enough with An to tell him that he's on meth and doesn't want to quit.

"When I did quit the habit at one point, I didn't really make much progress in life," Lee said. "Like, I still feel like my life was a failure."

What Lee does agrees to do is cut down on his meth use to get into a shelter.

That An is even out here in a park with Lee surprises himself. He's been asked, what's his end game? Is he running for city council? He laughs it off but doesn't rule it out.

He did, after all, seek -- and win -- a spot on the Koreatown neighborhood council in the same election that Nguyen lost.

Mel Tillekeratne, who works with An at Shower of Hope, said it doesn't matter to him what An's motivations are. He's just glad that An is putting in the work, and making genuine connections along the way.

"Nobody's a saint," Tillekeratne said. "You know, living in L.A., seeing everything that's happening in this city, we don't have any saints here."

THE CHURCH-GOERS
Pastor Tim Park beckons residents of Skid Row over to his tent ministry.

Pastor Tim Park beckons residents of Skid Row over to his tent ministry. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Double-click the PLAY button below to start the audio. Be patient -- it may take a moment to load.

In Skid Row, a middle-aged Korean guy stands on the street corner.

Others stand by their opposition to a Koreatown shelter -- even churchgoers with a history of helping homeless people. Yang Sool Wol took part in three of the rallies last year in between volunteering at her church.

The former grocery store employee still thinks the shelter site was inappropriate. So does fellow church member Hyun Sook Lee.

"A lot of people is around there, so it's (an) all-resident area," Lee said.

Both attend the downtown megachurch Glory Church of Jesus Christ and say they care deeply about homeless people.

Every week, in fact, they help make 120 ham and egg sandwiches to be delivered to Skid Row, carefully wrapping them in yellow paper. Lee uses $70 of her own money each week to buy sandwich supplies. "Jesus tells me to help homeless people, so I'm just following His order," said Lee, who used to own a liquor store.

Volunteers at Glory Church of Jesus Christ make sandwiches to be delivered to Skid Row. Yang Sool Wol, standing, had protested a shelter project in Koreatown.

Volunteers at Glory Church of Jesus Christ make sandwiches to be delivered to Skid Row. Yang Sool Wol, standing, had protested a shelter project in Koreatown. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Pastor Timothy Park, who runs the homeless ministry at their church, said he sees the incongruity but understands it.

"So many people have a good heart but they don't know how to deal with the homeless people," Park said. "That's why so many people they just avoid them. Or they just give them food and they run away."

Park said his perspective is different because growing up in Korea, his parents ran an orphanage. Homeless people remind him of the orphans he befriended.

"These people have no power to raise their voice, right?," Park, 59, said.

Hyun Sook Lee cleans up after making sandwiches at Glory Church of Jesus Christ in downtown L.A.

Hyun Sook Lee cleans up after making sandwiches at Glory Church of Jesus Christ in downtown L.A. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Every Friday night, Park heads to Skid Row to lead two services, one at Gladys Park, the other at San Pedro and 5th, where he sets up a white tent with folding chairs.

"We have 'White House Church' tent right on this corner," Park boomed from a microphone.

Korean American churches are a major force in a diaspora that is more than two-thirds Christian. Missionaries to Korea converted many to Christianity and many Korean Americans value the concept of being called to a mission. That work to promote their faith can be overseas or closer to home, like with homeless people.

Park said there are at least a couple dozen other Korean American churches in L.A. running homeless ministries.

Pastor Tim Park preaches on a Skid Row street corner, beckoning passers-by to join his tent ministry church service. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

He's one of the most recognizable figures -- a 6'1" Korean guy with a won't-quit smile and a deep tan from being outside all the time.

Before he was a pastor, Park ran a termite control company and was raising two young children with his wife.

Then at age 36, he said, God spoke to him in a vision during his nightly prayers, calling him to be a minister. Park enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and when he graduated, sold his business.

Because he wanted to work with a large congregation, he found a pastor position at the 3,000-member Glory Church of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Tim Park holds up his rendering of a vision he had when he was 36 in which he said God spoke to him.

Pastor Tim Park holds up his rendering of a vision he had when he was 36 in which he said God spoke to him. (Josie Huang/LAist)

It was a few years in -- 2012 -- when the senior pastor asked someone from his staff to pray with the homeless people camped right outside their church.

"All the other pastors they shut their mouth and they don't say anything because they are afraid right?" Park said.

Park raised his hand. And so began a homeless ministry that has grown to also include weekly visits to MacArthur Park and Eagle Rock.

But with Koreatown, it's a different story.

Park himself spoke out against the shelter plan, even going to City Hall to testify.

Pastor Tim Park sits in his office at Glory Church of Jesus Christ, where he records his weekly radio program.

Pastor Tim Park sits in his office at Glory Church of Jesus Christ, where he records his weekly radio program. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Park said he did so because the Koreans he knows need more time to get used to having a shelter so nearby.

"They're not educated," Park said. "That's why my mission is that I need to train Korean community people who the homeless people are and how to live together."

Park said he visits different Korean churches around L.A. to talk about his homeless ministry. From his office, he also records a 25-minute-long weekly program for Korean Christian radio that tackles homelessness, as well as Bible teachings.

He said his big dream is that his own church will one day open its doors to homeless people.

But until then, he has to go to them.

After Pastor Tim Park's service, visitors are given instant noodles and ham and egg sandwiches made at his church.

After Pastor Tim Park's service, visitors are given instant noodles and ham and egg sandwiches made at his church. (Josie Huang/LAist)

During his sermon on Skid Row, Park challenged someone to come up and recite the Ten Commandments. The prize was the black jacket he's wearing. David Sanchez took the mic and haltingly listed most of them.

"You shall not...covet your neighbor's house," Sanchez, 41, finished.

Park burst out in applause: "Alright, David!" He handed the jacket over to him. It's been six months since Sanchez, a former trucker, first came to Park's ministry and stuck with it because he found the pastor likeable and genuine.

Sanchez said he relies on the showers and meals he can get on Skid Row. Otherwise he would avoid the area. He feels safer sleeping on cross-town buses.

On one of these bus rides a few months ago, he stopped off in Koreatown, where he bumped into Park at a Burger King.

Pastor Tim Park poses with David Sanchez, after giving him his jacket for taking on a challenge to recite the Ten Commandments.

Pastor Tim Park poses with David Sanchez, after giving him his jacket for taking on a challenge to recite the Ten Commandments. (Josie Huang/LAist)

"I happened to have food stamps and I said, 'Oh well, you know, let me buy you a hamburger,'" Sanchez said.

They sat down together. For Sanchez, that was the best feeling, being able to break bread with his pastor.

* * *