I gave myself a simple reporting task. The media and residents have been told that sheltering the homeless in about a dozen City of L.A. recreation centers has been a success and the program most likely will be expanded to include the Palisades Recreation Center. So in anticipation that this might happen, I decided to visit three of the Westside recreation centers that are currently housing homeless people.
On March 30, I had called Westwood, Cheviot Hills Recreation Centers and LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) to ask how many people could be accommodated at each site and how many were currently at each center. The mailboxes were full and subsequent calls went unanswered.
Knowing that the centers were obviously busy, I drove to the Westchester Recreation Center, Cheviot Hills and Westwood to ask two simple questions: 1) What is the capacity? 2) How many people are currently staying here? I was accompanied by my son, who is now taking college classes online at home.
At Westchester, four police stood by the door but I showed my press card and we were allowed to walk in and sign a visitor sheet, after we had our temperatures taken. Mine was 98.2. Three people sat behind a table and I asked them about the capacity. One woman said 25 and when I asked how many people were currently staying there, a City park employee told me to leave. He opened the door and called to the police to escort me off the property.
I asked, “Why can’t the press know the numbers?”
As the police came towards, me, I said, “We’re leaving.” Then a woman who identified herself as working with LAHSA came out and walked me and my son to the parking lot. I asked her the same question. She said that I should call the center, and I explained that I had called, but no one had returned my call. She took my card and said that someone would respond.
In the car, my son said “What they are not saying, says a lot more. What are they hiding? When you’re guilty you plead the fifth, when you’re innocent, you just tell the truth.”
At Cheviot Hills, I put the press badge in my pocket and went inside, where once again I had my temperature taken: 97.6. There were four police outside and about seven people in the outer office.
My son asked to use the restroom and was directed outside—the inside was not for the public. That proved fortuitous because the back door to the gym was open and he was able to sneak a photo.
I told the helpful people I was looking for a relative and asked how many people they could accommodate. They said “40,” but assured me they were absolutely full, and that no one corresponded to my relative’s description: male, brown hair, brown eyes, skinny and about 6 ft. tall.
Our next stop was the Westwood Recreation Center. A temporary steel fence had recently been placed around the building and part of the park. One of the people inside the fence said it had gone up about the time the Covid-19 “Safer at Home” mandate came out. The only way to access the Rec Center, the soccer field or tennis courts was through the entrance on Sepulveda.
I counted dozens and dozens of all-new RVs lined up around the Rec Center, being serviced. Looking inside one, I noticed there was still plastic on the toilet. I asked what the RVs were for and was told they would be used for the homeless.
At the gym, I once again identified myself as a reporter and asked about capacity and how many people were currently there. I was asked to go stand on a curb and someone would talk to the media.
A man who works with First to Serve, a nonprofit that offers supportive services to homeless men, women and children in South Los Angeles, came over to speak with me.
He said his organization was partnering with the park staff, but he was not allowed to answer questions about how many people the gym would hold (that was a park/City question). However, he assured me that the center was full.