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South Gate Community Fights Proposal for Housing Homeless Veterans on Downey Border

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n a sleepy corner of Southeast L.A. County, the regional struggle to respond to the homelessness crisis is facing another challenge from residents of a proposed housing project for homeless vets.

The American Legion Hollydale Post 723 nonprofit has been serving military veterans since the 1940s. Officials hope to convert the 2.24-acre county-owned property into affordable apartments with on-site support services for homeless veterans.

Nearby residents aren’t happy with those plans. While the site is located in city of Downey, the homes and apartments that surround it are in South Gate, which has already approved the creation of its own homeless housing facility less than a mile away.

At an informational meeting at the American Legion held by South Gate officials last Wednesday, about 200 residents overfilled a hall, with many complaining that the Downey project would bring more crime, more traffic, and lower their property values.

“We aren’t against the project, we are basically against the location,” Sandra Perez told L.A. Taco. The South Gate resident who lives in the Hollydale community, helped organize the turnout at the meeting.

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]ecause of the way Downey and South Gate are divided, Downey residences would not be as directly impacted by the proposal at the American Legion site as those in South Gate.

At Wednesday’s town hall, many residents directed their anger at South Gate officials, some unaware that the American Legion site is not under the  South Gate jurisdiction. In fact, South Gate Councilwoman Maria Davila echoed her constituents’ opposition to the Downey project.

“We are not against building for veterans, we are in favor of it,” Davila told the crowd. “We are already building one on Imperial.”

The proposed housing project at American Legion would be less than a mile away from a 60-unit apartment complex slated to house and provide onsite support services for veterans and other homeless individuals. It is located in South Gate on Imperial Highway near the L.A. River and 710 Freeway.

That project has already been approved by the South Gate City Council. It’s part of a bevy of redevelopment projects in the area that have residents fearing it’s too much.

“We are going to be bombarded with a lot of project plans and I don't think our community is ready,” said Perez, who has lived in Hollydale for 14 years. “I’m hoping that Downey and L.A. County will realize that [the new project] belongs somewhere else.”

Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

[dropcap size=big]D[/dropcap]evelopment is frenetic in and around Hollydale and South Gate at large. Three Metro stations are scheduled to be created in or near South Gate as part of the West Santa Ana Light Rail project, which would connect downtown Los Angeles to Artesia. The project is being financed by voter-approved Measure M funds and expected to be operating in time for the 2028 Olympics.

A market-rate apartment complex is also scheduled to break ground less than half a mile from the American Legion site, replacing what was a longtime swap meet near the corner of Garfield Avenue and Imperial Highway.

A few blocks east of the American Legion, also on county-owned land, the southern half of the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center is scheduled to be redeveloped into a sports complex, a Sheriff’s crime lab, and headquarters for the county’s probation and internal services departments.

Efforts to combat homelessness regionally have been beefed up with new funding passed by voters last year through the Measure H homelessness tax.

Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]his summer, both the Downey City Council and County Board of Supervisors, led by Downey area Supervisor Janice Hahn, authorized exploring the creation of the proposed American Legion housing project, which is still in the early stages.

Over the years, the American Legion has rented out its hall for parties and has been used as a polling place during elections, while its dirt lot has been host to carnivals and most recently a swap meet. Community groups have also organized events centered around beautifying the property.

Hahn’s office saw the location as underutilized property. More than a year ago, the county began talks with the city of Downey and American Legion about its future use.

“While over the past year we have made a dent in veteran homelessness, there are still nearly 3,900 homeless veterans living in L.A. County— a greater concentration than anywhere else in the country,” Liz Odendahl told L.A. Taco. Odendahl is communications director for Supervisor Hahn, who represents Downey.

“This is a shameful statistic and something Supervisor Hahn is committed to solving,” she added.

Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

There are more than 53,000 people experiencing homelessness night in the county, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

South Gate officials plan to hold another informational meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6. The county is scheduled to issue a request for proposals from developers in the next six months.

RELATED: ‘The Homeless Count Always Ends Around Election Time’ ~ Skid Row Reacts to Drop In Official Figures

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