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Pallet Shelters in Montebello

On Wednesday, August 18, the Homeless Ad Hoc comprised of Councilmembers Salvador Melendez and Angie Jimenez, and city staff, unveiled Operation Stay Safe - an initiative to build 25 8' by 8' pallet shelters in the corner of the Montebello/Commerce Metrolink parking lot off of Vail Ave. and Flotilla St. This idea comes to our city on the heels of dozens of cities across the United States testing this novel approach to temporary housing.

The climate-controlled units can have several occupancy configurations. Single adults will have private rooms, and additional beds can be added for couples or parents with up to two children. Onsite facilities will include communal restrooms and showers, lockable storage units, an eating area where meals will be provided free of charge three times a day, a case management office, and a security officer on guard 24/7. The area will be improved with asphalt paint for aesthetics, and encircled by semi-private wood slats. Illegal items, illicit drugs, and visitors are all prohibited. The space will be pet friendly with amenities for furry companions. The residents are expected to stay for no more than 90 days before being transitioned into permanent supportive housing.

Operation Stay Safe would be funded for two years through the San Gabriel Valley Regional Housing Trust ("SGVRHT") arm of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments ("SGVCOG"). SGVRHT was founded as a Joint Powers Authority in February 2020 to finance the planning and construction of affordable and homeless housing. The homeless housing pilot program will provide the capital and technical assistance to create shelters, collaborate with various agencies to provide onsite services, and address the emergency shelter needs of the San Gabriel Valley quickly and at relatively low cost.

Our Montebello Community Assistance Program ("MCAP") estimates 170 people experience homelessness in Montebello. Those experiencing homelessness in Montebello and Commerce will be given priority in filling units. It has not been made clear what percentage of housing is expected to open for populations outside our cities. Assuming a great majority of units are dedicated to those within Montebello, we are 100% successful in enrolling and transitioning all our neighbors experiencing homelessness, and with the goal of transitioning all 25 residents out of the project every 90 days, homelessness in Montebello can be solved in short order.

While examining the pallet shelter, listening to presentations by the city, and walking the grounds of the station, I had these questions:

  • What percentage of people experiencing homelessness in Montebello have expressed interest in temporary or permanent housing?

  • Is there enough permanent supportive housing available to meet our ability to move residents out every 90 days?

  • A major problem of moving those experiencing homelessness into permanent supportive housing are due to inefficiencies in the pipeline. How are pipeline issues being fixed to quickly transition residents from one program to the next?

  • In other programs, what is the average length from first contacting an applicant to getting them housed?

  • How much will the program be spending per person per month in terms of services?

  • Are the units seismically safe? Will they require additional infrastructure?

  • Describe the onsite security in terms of role and authorizations. Will they be required to patrol during curfew hours?

  • How often will communal facilities being cleaned?

  • It was mentioned Redondo Beach residents were transitioned out in 6 months; how long were they supposed to be there for?

  • Freight and passenger trains run through the station a couple hundred feet away. How often do they pass? Will there be any soundproofing or accommodations made for excess noise?

  • Will security operate in Metrolink parking lot, or only within the project?

  • What happens to those that "fail out" of the program? Will they be moved elsewhere?

  • Are funds being allocated for the maintenance of any incidental trash or blight on the Metrolink property caused by the project?

  • How many people use the metro link station per month?

  • How will occupancy be checked? If someone leaves, how long does a room need to be vacated before opened to someone else?

  • What are the qualifications/restrictions for applicants? Sobriety, violence, sex crimes, mental/physical health issues?

While I am a fervent advocate of Montebello being on the forefront of technologies and trends, I have to admit there is some hesitancy with this project. This model for housing is new. It picked up steam during Summer of 2020 as the pandemic raged and agencies wondered how to keep homeless populations housed and safely distanced. There are several projects in our region that are testing this concept. I believe Montebello would be better served waiting until those pilot programs are completed and analyzed to understand the successes, failures, and improvements. On the other hand, however, the Montebello/Commerce Metrolink station is lightly used and away from residences. The facilities are temporary so if the program does not meet expectations it can be unwound. It is completely funded SGVRHT, and a hopeful solution to a problem that has been stymied by the complexities of human suffering. I am looking forward to learning more about Operation Stay Safe.

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