Hold On: Sheltering Homeless at the Recreation Center Is Not a Done Deal–There’s Nothing in Writing

Dozens of new RVs were being prepared for the homeless by the Westwood Recreation Center. RVs have been positioned at Westchester and at Cheviot Hills.

Sarah Conner, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, shared good news on April 19 that she had heard from L.A. Recreation and Parks Commissioner Joe Halper that “the City will not be opening any more recreation centers to shelter homeless.”

Circling the News shared that information in Sunday night’s Musings. But Monday morning we received an email from Susie Forte Gilman, who had filed a lawsuit on April 7 against the City of Los Angeles about a proposal to use the Pacific Palisades Recreation Center to house the homeless.

“This is basically fake news until we hear it from the City, Bonin and my attorney,” Gilman told CTN. Her attorney, John Durrant, had not been contacted about the update relayed by Halper.

CTN spoke on the phone this afternoon [April 20] with Halper, a long-time Palisades resident, who said there are no plans to open four more rec centers.

Halper said that even though the CDC has recommended not clearing homeless encampments during a community spread of COVID-19 — unless individual housing units were available — the L.A. County Department of Public Health deemed moving people into gymnasiums was a better plan.

He said that L.A. has plans to move the homeless into motels and hotels but noted that the Rec and Parks board commissioners have no authority or say about what goes on in the gyms.

Halper added that the City has about 500 RVs, obtained from FEMA , but he doesn’t know what the plans are for them and urged CTN to contact City officials.

CTN immediately emailed Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilman Mike Bonin, Rec and Parks Executive Director Michael Shull, Lisa Payne (mayor’s office) and Barbara Ferrer (director of the County Department of Public Health).

CTN asked: 1) Once the Covid-19 crisis is over and recreation centers reopen, where will the homeless be taken? 2) There have been issues at rec centers with some of the homeless mentally ill: Have the rec center staffs been trained to work with the mentally ill? 3) The CDC did not recommend bringing in a large number of homeless into indoor spaces, but rather to leave them in encampments. The L.A. Dept. of Health went against that recommendation. Why? 4) The L.A. Times reported that at the Granada Hills Rec Center, when a homeless person was diagnosed with Covid-19, at least six people ran back out into the community. Why weren’t they quarantined? 5) How many homeless have been diagnosed with Covid-19? How many have died?

Gilman responded to CTN by email about her concerns, “While we are encouraged to hear from someone close to the decision-makers that the county is no longer supporting the rec center plan, unfortunately at this time we have received no official comment from the city’s or county’s attorneys notifying us of this directional change.”

She noted, “We don’t have any verification from the city. If Dr. Ferrer has abandoned this plan and boy, do we hope she has come to her senses and done so, why have they issued no announcement? Why has not even Mike Bonin taken credit for it? The city needs to have someone issue a public statement, even if it is just a tweet; it needs to be documented to make it official and for all of us to rest assured.”

Gilman warned that this community might find themselves in the same place as Cheviot Hills, where the recreation center was turned into a homeless center. RVs were brought in, ostensibly to allow any homeless person who tests positive with Covid-19 to be isolated. RVs now line Motor Avenue, abutting a nice residential area.

According to an ABC News report on Monday, April 20, (“Street Medical Teams to Test LA’s Homeless for Covid-19”), Garcetti has said the goal is to provide 300 trailers citywide in the coming weeks.

“We’ve filed a lawsuit to protect our community from misguided decisions by the City that will hurt both residents and homeless,” Gilman said. “Now is not the time to give up pushing simply because of a private conversation. If the City was officially backing down, they would officially comment. Until then we should all be prepared for yet another pivot on the part of our city government.”

Gilman said that if anyone would like to support the lawsuit against the City, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/contribute-to-save-Pali-Rec–help-homeless?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

CTN was told that all of the cots inside the Westwood Center were taken. Although spaced 6 ft. apart, it is hard to keep social distance in the gym and restrooms.

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