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Hacienda Heights

Hacienda Heights against conversion of motel into homeless shelter

On Jan. 12, the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association (HHIA) opposed the purchase of a motel to permanently house people experiencing homelessness in Hacienda Heights (HH) and urged that it be converted into a “family resource center” instead, serving homeless parents with school-age children.

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, California (CA) Governor Gavin Newsom established Project Roomkey in order to not only address the homelessness crisis in CA, but minimize strain on the healthcare system as well. Using state and federal funds, CA counties and city governments rented motel and hotel rooms to temporarily house homeless individuals as well as prevent the spread of COVID. 

Project Roomkey was an immediate success, not only providing shelter but also keeping many motels and hotels in business during an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. Millions of dollars more have since been invested into it.

“Project Roomkey exceeded all expectations, providing safe shelter to more than 22,300 Californians experiencing homelessness,” Gov. Newsom said on his official website in Nov. 2020, only six months after Roomkey launched. “But this pandemic is very much still with us and we can’t take our eye off the ball. … At the end of the day, our top objective for this new funding is keeping everyone—including people experiencing homelessness—safe from COVID-19.”

After Project Roomkey’s success, it evolved, and Project Homekey was born. Rather than simply renting out rooms, entire motels and hotels were purchased to permanently house people suffering from homelessness. Since its creation in 2020, Homekey has proven to be the “fastest, largest, most cost-effective addition of permanent housing in California history,” according to Gov. Newsom’s official website. The project is currently distributing round two of funding.

“We are in the middle of dual crises—an ongoing homeless crisis and a pandemic that threatens the lives of people living on our streets,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn in a press release. HH is one of many cities under her management. “We need to act with the urgency that both crises demand. With the State’s funding and support, we are transforming motels across my district into affordable apartments with wraparound services. This model is quicker and less expensive than building new housing from scratch.”

The Motel 6 located on S. Seventh Ave. in HH is one of ten Project Homekey facilities purchased by LA County. In light of this, Scott Martin, president of the HHIA—a private non-profit organization made up of HH residents that aim to “make Hacienda Heights a better place in which to live”—publicly testified at a BRCH meeting questioning the decision to turn the Motel 6 into a Homekey facility. 

On Jan. 12, an HHIA presentation was on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness (BRCH) agenda. BRCH was created by the LA County Board of Supervisors to research and analyze the best ways to address the homelessness crisis. They hold regular meetings that are open to the public for the purpose of hearing and taking into consideration their concerns and opinions.

At the meeting, Martin outlined several worries the HHIA have communicated regarding the decision to establish a Homekey facility in HH, including occupant criminal history, the safety of HH residents, whether occupants will be able to leave the premises at any time, and whether occupants will be transported from outside HH.

Martin also notably expressed concerns about the “blight” affecting HH residents “caused by the motel occupants” following the purchase.

Furthermore, Martin requested that the Motel 6 be converted into a “family resource center” rather than a Homekey facility, of which occupants are “ideally…homeless parents with elementary school age children” and housed only for two years. The center would offer a 24/7 childcare center for working parents and vocational training programs for those who do not. A pathway to permanent housing would also be provided.

Martin questioned the decision to situate a Homekey facility in HH at all.

“We know that typically homeless shelters are created in areas that are experiencing homeless issues. For the most part, Hacienda Heights is not one of those areas,” Martin said during the presentation. “There is a lack of local services for the homeless. We only have one shopping center—the Vons—no mental health support, no substance abuse support, no domestic violence intervention support or health clinics. So we question: why here?”

The HHIA presentation at the Jan. 12 BRCH meeting is not the first time HH residents have contested Project Homekey. In May 2020, prior to the Motel 6 purchase, nearly 1,000 HH residents signed a change.org petition contesting the decision to convert the motel. Since then, the number of signatures has tripled to almost 3,000.

Alvaro Banegas, who started the petition, wrote, “This community will never be the same! … Janice Hahn lives nowhere close to us and she will never be affected by her reckless decision.”

“Hacienda Heights is full of families and schools,” another HH resident commented. “Once a homeless community is established here, we are afraid of walking outside. We feel not safe. Children are in need of safety.”

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