The Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council is a group of elected, volunteer stakeholders that work as a body for improvement of the Harbor Gateway North neighborhood. The activities of the Council are funded by the City of Los Angeles through the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Updates on the activities of the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council can be found on its Facebook Page.

The Council has formulated a four-point mission statement:

  • To provide an inclusive and open forum for public discussion of issues of interest to the Council, including City governance, the needs of the Council, the delivery of City services to the Council area, and other matters of a City-wide nature;
  • To advise the City on issues of interest to the Council, including City governance, the needs of the Council, the delivery of City services to the Council area, and other matters of a Citywide nature;
  • To initiate, execute and support projects for the physical, social and cultural improvement of the Council area; and
  • To facilitate communication between the City and Community Stakeholders on issues of concern to the community and/or the Stakeholders.

The Operation of the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council

The board of directors of the Council meets on the second Tuesday of the month, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The board meetings are held at 135th Street Elementary School Auditorium, which is located at 801 West 135th Street.

In addition to board meetings, the Council hosts broader membership meetings. These are held quarterly, on the fourth Tuesday of January, April, July, and October. These meetings are also held at the school in the auditorium. There usually is a speaker or two at the membership meetings that address issues of importance and interest to the neighborhood.

Pamela Thornton Leads the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council

Pamela Thornton chairs the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council. She was elected to a full term as Chair of the Council in 2016, after serving as Vice Chair and Interim Chair. As the leader of the Council’s board, Pamela has enumerated a number of goals and objectives, including:

  • Meeting the needs of the stakeholders of the Harbor Gateway North neighborhood
  • Transparency
  • Making certain everyone has a voice

Pamela explained that the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council serves a diverse community with just under 40,000 people. The area itself is broken down further into eight districts. “Each district is very unique,” Pamela explained. “A very diverse population makes up Harbor Gateway North.”

Homelessness in Los Angeles: Addressing the Epidemic

The Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council faces the immediate and long terms associated with the epidemic of homelessness in Los Angeles. Beginning in 2015, headlines in the Los Angeles Times affirmed time and again that LA had the largest population of chronically homeless people in the country. Of the number of chronically homeless people in LA, only about one-third of these men, women, and children access temporary housing or shelters. The remainder “live on the streets,” including homeless encampments.

The Council has issued its own Community Action Statement in regard to homelessness in the neighborhood and across the Greater Los Angeles area:

Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council acknowledges that homelessness is an epidemic that requires comprehensive and humane strategies to meet the goals to end homelessness. We support high-quality services to house and rehabilitate the homeless that assure adequate levels of supervision and professional staffing. Service delivery must be provided equitably without a concentration in any one geographic area.

The Council requests that we, and other affected neighborhood councils, are included as active partners in the proposed ten-year Plan (Bring Los Angeles Home!  The Partnership to End Homelessness) or any other plan(s), to end homelessness within the city.

Pamela has witnessed a significant increase in the growth of homeless encampments and homeless individuals throughout the area served by the Council. In the past, homeless encampments were found closest to the highway system. That no longer is the case, with encampments being established elsewhere in the area and homeless individuals and families being found deep in the heart of neighborhoods not previously directly confronted by this epidemic.

A homeless encampment is defined as a gathering of more than one homeless person or family. Historically, this type of encampment is called a “tent city,” even though some homeless encampments are completely devoid of any true tent. A homeless encampment potentially can consist of a few people to over a hundred.

Over the course of three years since the latest ordinances governing homeless encampments went into effect, Los Angeles public works crews have been actives in cleaning up, but not taking down or eliminating, homeless encampments. By the latter part of 2017, the LA public works team a tallied a good amount of activity in regard to homeless encampments throughout the city.  Between 2015 and the middle of 2017, the rate of city public works homeless encampment cleanup increased seven-fold.

These efforts have included:

  • 16,500 homeless encampments cleaned up
  • 3,000 tons of trash eliminated in the process

Pamela went on to explain the various levels of homelessness. These include:

  • People living in shelters and obtaining services
  • People living alone or in family units on the street
  • People living in their cars or other vehicles
  • People who “couch surf” or go from one house to another

Pamela remarked that people living in cars or couch surfing oftentimes do not consider themselves homeless. She explained that in reality, they are homeless because they lack a regular, safe residence.

Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Residents Face Homeless Epidemic

As mentioned, the location of homeless individuals and encampments has changed dramatically in the past two years. “The visibility of the homeless population throughout the area has been a sea change for residents,” Pamela explained.

Homeowners and renters in the area have growing concerns about the impact of the growing homeless population across Los Angeles. These concerns include:

  • Aesthetics
  • Safety
  • Health
  • Crime
  • Hygiene

The city of Los Angeles does dispatch work crews to clean up homeless encampments. With that said, the city is stretched in what it can do in this regard. There simply are not enough city workers to keep up with the negative consequences to the broader community of homeless encampments. “There is just not enough city and country manpower” to fully address the issue, Pamela explained. Moreover, there are ongoing jurisdictional issues as well, she added.

In addition, there is a considerable misunderstanding among the general public about what the city (and other governmental entities) can and cannot do in regard to homeless encampments and related issues. The city has the authority to clean up encampments, but not to directly seize property items that form the basis for these encampments. The net effect is that once a particular encampment is cleaned up, a new one is rebuilt at or near the location of the one the city addressed. These process leads some homeowners and others to conclude that the city “is not doing enough.”

Community Action to Aid Homeless People

Understanding that homelessness in city and county of Los Angeles has reached epidemic proportions in recent years, Pamela explained there are limitations to what the Council can do as an organization to assist men, women, and children lacking proper housing.

Pamela explained one outreach project the Council and stakeholders started to assist homeless children in the area. In cooperation with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Council provided backpacks for homeless school children that included toiletries and other necessary items. In the end, children need to be decently fed in order to get the most out of school. However, they also need hygiene supplies to properly prepare for school as well.

The Council also strives to work with other agencies to address homelessness in the area. This includes different city agencies, country agencies. CalTran, and even the federal government. Pamela explained working through jurisdictional issues to address issues associated with homelessness can be highly challenging.

Homeless Shelter Accessibility Issues

Pamela has identified a major problem during her term as Chair of the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council. “There aren’t a lot of shelters in our area. There are no shelters for homeless families,” Pamela explained.

Pamela went on to explain that shelters that accept entire families are not located close to the Harbor Gateway North area. She went on to note that many homeless families will not migrate to another part of town to get into a shelter. “The chose not to go a considerable distance to get services because they want to keep the family together. Some parents have jobs and they don’t have the transportation necessary to get services from a shelter at a distance. They also want to keep their children in the same schools they have been attending,” Pamela explained. 

Changing the Lives of Homeless People

Pamela’s final comments involved reaching out to homeless people early on after they end up without a place to live. “When a person, or family, has a first homeless encounter, it is important for connections to be made with them during the first 60 to 90 days. They must be provided realistic access to homeless services during the first 60 to 90 days,” she said.

Pamela explained that a homeless person will be more apt to access meaningful services, including shelter, during the first 60 to 90 days “out on the street.” After that time, homeless people will be far less likely to take advantage of services. “They develop a mindset against taking advantage of services. They become accustomed to their living situation,” Pamela noted.

Author

Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.