- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2022

A businessman’s proposal to turn a Los Angeles landmark into a massive homeless shelter wasn’t well received by neighborhood residents during a meeting last month.

Anaheim businessman Bill Taormina suggested that the Sears Tower in the Boyle Heights neighborhood could be reborn as the “Los Angeles Life Rebuilding Center,” where up to 10,000 homeless people could stay and get access to health services, job training, immigration help and drug abuse diversion programs, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Mr. Taormina, who has helped build shelters in nearby Orange County, is business partner with the Sears Tower’s owner, billionaire Izek Shomof.

But residents had some thoughts about living next to a huge homeless shelter.

“A crime against humanity,” “irresponsible” and “a threat to the area’s children” were some of the sentiments expressed by 200 or so attendees during a June 27 meeting about the plan, according to the paper.

Mr. Taormina’s plan isn’t exclusively about turning the tower into a homeless shelter.

The repurposed tower also would have a retail and convenience store open to the public; add a police substation and a staging area for the fire department; provide job training for food service, security and cosmetology; and convert part of its parking lot into grassy areas. 

Mr. Taormina said residents had expressed interest in all of those things, according to the Los Angeles Times.

However, residents and local politicians struggled to wrap their heads around bringing 10,000 people off the street and into their neighborhood.

“Situating 10,000 people, albeit temporarily, in one building and asking the city of L.A. to foot the bill is a non-starter,” city councilman Kevin de León, who represents the Boyle Heights area, told the Los Angeles Times. 

Mr. de León also told the paper that the project had some “red flags” when he reviewed the plan earlier this year. 

Mr. Taormina said he will incorporate the residents’ feedback into the project’s plans rather than abandon the effort altogether.

Some research suggests that Mr. Taormina’s high-density shelter might be the opposite of what the homeless population is interested in.

A May report on Los Angeles’ homeless population done by the Rand Corp. found that, of the roughly 2,500 homeless people the researchers spoke to, respondents largely preferred private housing over congregate shelters. 

Researchers said that could challenge a policy approach often championed by local officials.

“Our findings suggest that large expansions in shelter capacity in the city may do little to move unhoused people off the streets,” lead author and economist Jason M. Ward told the Los Angeles Daily News.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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