Sighs of relief with Selma encampment gone as students return

| August 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

AUGUST 22 return to school along a cleared Selma sidewalk.

BEFORE — The sidewalk for children’s walk to school.

Parents and school officials breathed a big sigh of relief when a seemingly entrenched homeless encampment was cleaned up adjoining Larchmont Charter School’s Selma campus and its surroundings just in time for the first day of school.

“Many parents said, ‘Hallelujah. This is amazing. We’re so happy,’” said school spokesman Dave duMonde. But, he added, “Those who understand the history say it’s better than before, but we don’t hear the long-term plan.”

An army of city and county employees plus social service providers arrived at the three-block site Aug. 10 as part of the mayor’s 24th action under her Inside Safe program. They provided vouchers to 61 unsheltered people for beds at hotels and shelters, according to Council District 13 Senior Advisor Josh Androsky.

The cleanup continued the next day. Hollywood BID (Business Improvement District) organized steam cleaning of the street and sidewalks. Meanwhile, LAPD has been patrolling the area, and City Recreation and Parks rangers have been locking an adjacent mini-park at night.

“The encampment situation on Selma Avenue is a work in progress,” Amy Held, executive director of Larchmont Charter School (LCS), said in a recent letter to school families.

“We’ve been at that campus for more than a decade,” she told us in a phone interview. “The last five years really have been a challenge.”

A change in leadership always adds to the challenge, she said, alluding to last year’s municipal election.

“I do think it’s such an incredibly challenging issue, and it’s so sad. It’s much bigger than our school.”

The goal going forward, she said, is to ensure regular cleanups are maintained. “Inside Safe seems like a comprehensive approach and not just about moving people around. I applaud the mayor. I’m glad the councilman stepped up, and I know LAPD has been there all along. I’m very happy and hopeful,” Held said.

The cleanup happened late by most measures, but in time for when the Selma campus reopened with nearly 200 more pupils than last school year, for a total of 700 students including two new grade levels. The two added grades are part of a restructuring plan for LCS. The Selma site now has two campuses at that one location: Selma middle school has 515 fifth-through-eighth graders; and Hollygrove@Selma includes third- and fourth-graders.

The encampment at Selma was a challenge by anyone’s measure. The Hollywood area has the second largest unhoused population in our city, only behind Skid Row, said Councilman Hugo Soto- Martinez in a newsletter following the cleanup. Addressing Hollywood’s problems will require still more outreach, more services and more housing, he said.

“There’s currently a long list of folks who want to be off the streets and under a roof,” said Soto-Martinez.

School officials are sensitive to these needs as well.

“We care about the unhoused people there and that they are getting the care and resources they need,” duMonde of LCS said. “But we also want to see law and order enforced in our school.”

Parents had been pleading for months with Councilman Soto-Martinez’s office to remedy the situation. So, when something finally happened, “It was sort of a surprise when we got a notice from the mayor’s office the day before. We knew it was coming but were getting mixed messages,” duMonde said.

Coffee with a Cop

STATE SENATOR Maria Elena Durazo speaks with LCS Selma campus parents at a Coffee with a Cop event held at Mother’s California Market in Hollywood in August.

Rumors surfaced of the imminent plan to shelter the Selma unhoused during a Coffee with a Cop meeting Aug. 8 at Mother’s California Market in Hollywood. Several senior lead officers from the Hollywood Community Police Station and State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo were in attendance. The senator attended the event, she said, as part of her effort to get to know new areas in the district following a recent redistricting.

“The idea is to bring communities together, because so many of these issues have become very hostile and we can’t have that because it’s not going to solve anything. They affect our kids, our neighborhoods.” 

The senator, who said she previously was unaware of the homelessness issue at Selma, was brought up to speed as a group of parents gave reports of discarded needles, feces, fights and shouts they witnessed daily when they took their young children to school last spring.

“You have a lot of parents very concerned who’ve been trying desperately to get the councilman to help with this, and there has been very little response from the councilman,” said parent Meredith Quill of Windsor Square.

“This is incredibly dangerous. It is unsafe for kids to be at this campus.”

The cramped sidewalks forced parents to walk their young children in the street to get to and from school.

SELMA PARK denizens before cleaning. Note blue tent.

A city mini-park next door to the school, which had once been frequented by students, had evolved into a homeless enclave serving several encampments on both sides of Selma from Schrader Boulevard to Las Palmas Avenue.

ELECTRIC VAULT in the sidewalk vandalized for power.

ELECTRIC BOX was accessed near the children’s play area at the city park adjacent to Larchmont Charter’s Selma Campus.
Photo courtesy of
Los Angeles Fire Dept.

In the park, an electric box had been illegally accessed, a security guard had been attacked, fights broke out regularly in front of the school, and camp residents exposed themselves, the parents said.

Hopes were fading that the tents and debris near the school and adjacent park would be cleaned up in time for the first day of school on Aug. 22, as promised last spring by the council office.

While CD13 did send its Care Plus cleanup services again in late July, within hours, the tents and shopping carts returned, jamming the walkway, duMonde told us.

Illegal wiring

When Assistant Chief Dean Zipperman and Capt. Kory Jackson from the Los Angeles Fire Dept. Operations West Bureau office completed a visit to the site on Aug. 4, they “found a fire / life safety concern and ADA violations at the site with regards to illegal wiring.

“In addition, the entire sidewalk from the fence line to the curb is completely covered with tents, debris and trash. Due to this area being in the direct path of an elementary school access point, this is a safety hazard to children and parents trying to traverse the school…with the possibility of being exposed to this illegal wiring and other hazards causing immediate hazard of injury or possible electrocution to civilians.”

Residents were equally affected, according to Stephanie, who spoke at the Coffee with a Cop event and asked to not give her last name. She said the problem was made worse since Council District 13 was among the few districts that weren’t following the law, and so the homeless were migrating to this area. “They’re here because they’re allowed,” she said.

Just as the schoolchildren are forced to walk in the street — because the sidewalks are packed with tents and people — residents have to walk in the street there and at Western Avenue and other spots in CD13, she said.

The councilman, who said in his campaign that he was opposed to enforcing Section 41.18 of the City’s Municipal Code, maintains that unless there are beds available, he will not support moving people from the street, regardless of where they are camped. (Section 41.18 flatly prohibits homeless encampments within 500 feet of “sensitive facilities” such as schools and day care centers. The ordinance also requires sidewalks be unobstructed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA].)

Further frustrating parents, LAPD officers have said that, without the councilman’s support, their hands were tied.

SELMA AVENUE approaching Selma Avenue Elementary School, one block south of Hollywood Boulevard.

With an estimated 3,000 homeless individuals on the street in Council District 13 (confirmed by CD13), there will never be enough beds, parents said. (There are 400 temporary housing units and 300 crisis beds in CD13, and all are full, according to CD13’s Androsky.)

CLEANUP COMMENCES with placing of traffic cones to close the street to traffic on August 10.

While the homelessness issue on Selma has been ongoing for several years, it had gotten worse during COVID-19, when a shelter-in-place order was issued by the former mayor.

Under former Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, weekly maintenance cleanups helped keep the problem in check despite the shelter-in-place order. Then, regular cleanups stopped soon after Councilman Soto-Martinez came into office, and the problem escalated, Senior Lead Officer Paul Jordan said.

Androsky explained to us that the cleanups can only be done by the Los Angeles sanitation department, which was short-staffed, and that LAPD must be on site.

The councilman doesn’t want to simply shuffle people around, he added, which would probably only result in them losing their case manager and hope of housing in the process.

MOBILIZATION — skiploaders and garbage truck on the left; mini-bus transportation to transitional housing on the right.

Speaking of the Aug. 10 Inside Safe action, Androsky told us, “It’s an unfortunate situation” — for the students, parents and everyone involved — but while “this patient, meticulous work we were able to set up did take longer than anybody wanted, we now have this result that I think everybody is happy with.”

SKIPLOADER sits ready for cleanup to follow street-dwellers’ departures from the sidewalks and parks.

By providing housing, you avoid shifting the homeless closer to homes and

businesses nearby, Androsky added.

Once sheltered, the transferred individuals are offered a myriad of other complimentary services, including medication and drug treatment plus food and an ID to help find employment, all while on the road to permanent housing. “They can become a part of normal society instead of being outside of it,” Androsky said.

Besides the school staff, students and nearby residents,  others affected by the Selma encampment included the newly reopened and recently remodeled Hollywood YMCA and the Kings Los Angeles language school.

AFTER: Children’s playground the day following the cleanup.

BEFORE: Children’s playground in Selma Park on cleanup day, Thursday, Aug. 10.

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