Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash

The growing issue of homelessness is not unique to the sprawling city of Los Angeles, with 41,290 people experiencing homelessness in 2020 according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. In L.A. county alone, there has been a 12.7% increase in homelessness despite increasing the number of people rehoused in 2020. The suburbs surrounding the city of Los Angeles are now also facing the challenges of homelessness.

In Arcadia, an affluent and wealthy city in the San Gabriel Valley, a proposal to build tiny homes for the homeless has led to conflict and protests, the most recent being on Saturday, June 5.

Supporters argue that the project, known as the Tiny Shelter Project, won’t cost the city any money and is morally the right thing to do and  started a petition to spread awareness. Opponents believe that doing so will bring crime, drug use and other hazards to Arcadia residents. 

Those in opposition to the Tiny Shelter Project took to the streets, protesting in front of Arcadia City Hall and the homes of the Arcadia City Council. The Arcadia Safety Guardians, a group primarily made up of Asian Americans, gathered 150 residents to protest outside of Arcadia City Hall before the last two City Council meetings. 

“They came to my house twice. The thing that struck me when they arrived on the first protest was that everyone drove up in a brand new $100,000 car, and they were protesting [against] providing tiny sheds for 30 homeless people to live in at a location that is 10 or 15 minutes by car from the residences of any of these protesters,” Councilmember Tom Beck, who had protests in front of his home, told Scriberr News. 

During these protests, demonstrators against the plan held signs in English and Chinese, some reading: “We need a safe place to live. No homeless shelters!”

RELATED: Protesters Gathered at Echo Park Lake To Fight Against the City’s Plan To Repair the Park and Remove Homeless Encampments

Michelle Wu, an Arcadia resident who opposes the Tiny Shelters Project and has been to previous protests, believes that building such homes will negatively impact the safety of residents, children and the elderly as the planned location for these homes is near a park. 

Additionally, in a text message to Scriberr News, Wu likens these homes to cells in which there is “no humanity” and “no freedom” as they are too small, have no privacy and lack proper hygienic resources. Wu believes that a better alternative to the project would be to establish a homeless center with job training, an education system and a form of medical care to treat drug abuse. 

“The opposition is opposed to putting shelter in the city of Arcadia because they’re afraid that it will attract more homeless to the city of Arcadia, and that it will cause property values to go down, and I don’t believe this to be true,” Councilmember April Verlato told Scriberr News. 

Strong proponents of the plan to build homes for the homeless are made up mainly of Asian American students from Arcadia High School. Becky Chen, an Arcadia High School student, led a counter-rally on Sunday, June 6, with other fellow supporters affiliated with the Arcadia chapter of the progressive Sunrise Movement. Chen said the opposition had a two-day plan in which they would hold a demonstration in front of City Hall and all the councilmembers’ houses. 

“I don’t believe that the opponents actually think that [homes are inhumane] because if they actually felt that…they would push for a better policy, but their policy, their solution right now is just to not do the [Tiny Shelter] project,”  Chen told  Scriberr News.

Additionally, Chen said the media portrays a stark age gap with the younger generation supporting the plan and the older opposing it. However, Chen said there have been older people in support of the project. 

“I think there’s definitely something going on there where the older generation tends to have these more conservative values and they are immigrants, so they had this kind of bootstraps mentality that caused them to feel more inclined to not be as sympathetic towards the house-less as people because they believe that they worked hard to get there,” said Chen. 

RELATED: Los Angeles Funds Latest Lower Development Homeless Shelters: The Tiny Homes

Los Angeles has been an urban hot spot for homelessness over the last decade. However, homelessness started to spread beyond into suburban areas. Arcadia has relatively few homeless people, but the number of homeless people increased by more than 600%, from 15 in 2018 to 106 in 2020. 

The Arcadia City Council voted in February to study the installation of the Tiny Shelter Project funded by Measure H, the Los Angeles Homeless Initiative. If this legislation passes, the one-year program will house just over 100 homeless people in Arcadia. The proposed area to build these homes is near Peck Park, around five miles from City Hall.

“But I think the kicker in the whole thing is the fact that the property proposed is not Arcadia property, it’s county property,” said councilmember Beck. “It’s a property that’s owned by and controlled by the county, and the county can do whatever they want there.” 

The Tiny Shelter Project has been tabled indefinitely. According to Arcadia Mayor Sho Tay, “You cannot assume shelter is a problem. If those people have mental issues, they need mental help. You cannot just put them in a tiny house. That’s not the issue. So that’s why I tabled it and decided to do more in-depth study to find out what is the root cause of this problem.” 

In Venice, California, there have been many reports of the homeless attacking others. The latest occurred on June 8 when a security guard was attacked in the back parking lot of Arbor Collective after he asked the homeless man to leave the premises. Known as “T,” he sustained various injuries from the assault and was beaten with a broken glass bottle. He said the homeless man was under the influence.  

Following the pause, Council Mayor Pro Tem Paul P. Cheng said there will be seminars and forums instituted to educate residents on the issues of homelessness. 

“If you look at the city of Pasadena, they have shelters, and they do not have encampments or an increase in homeless in their city. Since they started, they have implemented a housing-first approach. Their numbers have gone down over 50% and they maintain that they continue to go down every single year, while the rest of the San Gabriel Valley will see increases,” according to Verlato. 

Written ByVivian Kwang

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