The fight against COVID-19 has significantly delayed construction of a permanent shelter and service center for homeless people, city officials said, but it still will be open before the end of summer.
Called the Atlantic Avenue Bridge Community, the project was announced with fanfare last December, when a $3.4 million contract was signed for purchase and installation of multiple modular buildings. Preliminary plans call for a 125-bed shelter and transitional housing along with space for supportive services.
"COVID," said Kelly Colopy, director of the city's Health and Human Services Department, in explaining why the project missed its June opening target date. "A lot of things were delayed, including construction. It was hard to get a lot of things."
In February 2019, the city paid $9.6 million to purchase the Atlantic Farms property at 6841-6845 Atlantic Ave. A large warehouse there had been used as a winter homeless shelter until 2017, when the owner leased it to KBA6845, LLC, a marijuana cultivation company. That firm still occupies the warehouse; its lease runs to 2026.
For the first phase of the project, several modular buildings are being installed at the back of the 909,000-square-foot lot and will be used primarily as a shelter for homeless men and women. The operator will be Volunteers of America.
"We've pushed the construction completion to late July," Colopy said. "At the end of July, the operator can start hiring and ramping up."
Colopy said Volunteers of America (VOA) will run the new permanent shelter. VOA has taken over operation of the winter shelter under a contract with Los Angeles County, which pays for that shelter. She has said that the city hopes to operate the permanent shelter with money from the county's Measure H tax revenue. A $3.4 million grant from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority paid for the modular buildings and the installation.
A point-in-time count done in January found 2,034 people homeless in Long Beach. In March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the city began opening temporary shelters to care for the homeless and maintain the recommended social distancing.
The efforts appear to have worked.
"We haven't seen any big trend in COVID among the homeless," Colopy said. "We've had less than 10 test positive. But we're ready — we still have a Project Room Key site (motel and hotel rooms) for those who need to quarantine or isolate."
With the summer at hand, fewer shelter beds are needed and the city is gradually closing the temporary shelters. However, they will remain available in case there is a renewed stay at home order.
The buildings at the Atlantic Avenue Bridge Community is the first phase of a larger development plan. Eventually, a service center along the lines of the city's Multi-Service Center near the Port of Long Beach will take over the front portion of the property.
An Eddie's Liquor Market on Atlantic Avenue already has closed, with relocation assistance from the city. Talks are taking place with KBA6845 to move from the warehouse, but the city currently is honoring the lease the firm signed with the previous owner.
"Currently, the warehouse tenant does not impede the development or operation of the shelter project; and, has declined to relocate," John Keisler, the city's director of Economic Development, said via email. "The city will continue to recognize the lease agreement between the warehouse tenant and the former owner until its expiration or until an alternative agreement is reached."