As the St. Joseph Center plans to relocate a homeless service center to a facility at Lincoln Boulevard and Flower Avenue in Venice, some nearby residents and business owners are objecting to the service center’s move close to a residential neighborhood.
After operating its walk-in service center for 20 years at a facility at Fourth Street and Rose Avenue in Venice, the St. Joseph Center is moving the service center to the site of one of its former thrift stores at 404 Lincoln Blvd.
The move comes after St. Joseph Center — a Venice-based organization that provides various services to homeless and low-income people — lost its lease at the Rose Avenue facility and was having to pay a sizable increase in rent to stay there, said Rhonda Meister, St. Joseph Center executive director.
“We’re not expanding or adding services, we’re just relocating,” Meister said. “We would not have chosen to relocate, had we not lost our lease.”
St. Joseph Center officials say they hope to be able to open the center at its new location by the beginning of March.
Meister said the homeless service center is a facility that provides the basic services to assist clients in meeting their most immediate needs, such as restrooms and showers. Clients can also visit the walk-in facility to use telephones, do laundry, get mail or spend time during the day.
The facility does not provide housing, but St. Joseph Center networks with other service providers to help people get into shelters, Meister said.
“Our primary goal of this service center is to get people into housing,” Meister said.
But while some residents in the area of the new location agree that the center’s services are necessary, some also say they feel that the facility should not be situated next to a residential neighborhood.
“We don’t think that a homeless service center is appropriate for that location, because it’s so close to a residential environment,” said Andre de Montesquiou, who owns the California Chicken Cafe, which is close to the facility on Lincoln Boulevard.
Residents opposed to the center’s move say the neighborhood has seen a recent proliferation of other services, including seven medical marijuana stores and two methadone clinics. They formed the group Save Our Neighborhood’s Integrity Committee (SONIC) when they learned of the homeless center’s relocation late last year.
Members of the SONIC group were among the more than 200 community members who attended a town hall meeting hosted by Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl at the Penmar Recreation Center Tuesday, February 6th, to address the impact on the neighborhood of the service center’s relocation.
Some residents have expressed concern regarding incidents of homeless people allegedly trespassing, sleeping in yards, and using drugs and alcohol, and they say the Lincoln and Flower site is not an appropriate location for the center because it is close to schools.
“They should not bring a part-time service like that into a community where there are elderly and children,” said Venice resident Carol Bodlander.
Bodlander said another problem with the proposed center is that it is “too simplistic in design,” and won’t be able to accommodate the increased number of people who will come to the center seeking the needed services.
“When you have a service like this, the numbers tend to grow,” Bodlander said. “People will go where the services are.”
When St. Joseph Center officials realized they would have to move the center to a new location, they looked at more than 150 potential sites, 60 of which were within a one-mile radius of the Rose Avenue site, Meister said.
None of the potential sites were as suitable as the former thrift shop at Lincoln and Flower Avenue, which has been relocated to 2545 Lincoln Blvd., she said. The facility was properly zoned for office use, was affordable and had a workable layout, she said.
The walk-in service facility will be open only during the day and is closed on weekends and holidays — an issue of concern for some residents who say that schedule will put the homeless back on the streets during the night.
“When they close the doors there’s no place for the homeless to go other than to disperse in the immediate neighborhood,” de Montesquiou said.
Chris Williams, a member of the Penmar Neighborhood Association and the SONIC group, said a main problem with the part-time service center is that it “enables the service-resistant and criminal homeless to stay in the service-resistant and criminal homeless lifestyle.”
But while some residents are fighting the service center’s move to their neighborhood, others say they welcome the facility to the area.
“I think we have to treat homeless people where homeless people are,” said Venice resident Patrick Meighan, who lives on Flower Avenue. “Homeless people are here. They’re part of my community.”
Meighan said that, if anything, he expects the center to have a positive impact on the neighborhood if it can help make a difference in the lives of the homeless.
Residents opposed to the center’s relocation say they are sensitive to the needs of the homeless but believe that the center would be better located in an industrial area away from homes.
They say that a homeless shelter, which would provide the people a place to stay overnight, might be more appropriate for the Lincoln and Flower site.
Another main complaint of some nearby residents was that they were not informed of St. Joseph Center’s plan to move and learned of the situation only late last year.
Meister, who has worked in homeless services since 1983, said she is very empathetic to the concerns of residents.
“I’m totally aware of what it means to live in a community that has a large number of homeless people in it,” Meister said.
Meister said she doesn’t expect the relocation to have any major impact on the community, because the facility will not have any new or increased services.
The St. Joseph Center will provide after-hours security that will patrol the alleys near the facility, and a 24-hour hotline number will be available for the public, she said.
Center officials plan to work with the residents to address their concerns and ensure that the move to the new facility is “as smooth as possible,” Meister said.