Opening a temporary homeless shelter in Norwalk is the right thing to do

The Southern California Youth Correctional Reception Center & Clinic opened in Norwalk in 1954, a sprawling campus on Bloomfield Avenue between Imperial Highway and Foster Road that housed juvenile offenders convicted or accused of various crimes, violent or otherwise. 

A homeless encampment under the 605 Freeway in Norwalk. Photo by Alex Dominguez

A homeless encampment under the 605 Freeway in Norwalk. Photo by Alex Dominguez

For 58 years the facility aimed to rehabilitate wayward children, even as it simultaneously dealt with allegations of abusive voluntary confinement, violence among staff and prisoners, and rampant suicide attempts within its walls. 

When the center was shut down Dec. 31, 2011, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights called the closure “a monumental achievement in our ongoing campaign to shut down California’s dangerous, expensive, and ineffective youth prisons.”

But for all its infamy, the prison operated relatively free of public scrutiny during its nearly six decades in Norwalk. Its closure was the result of ubiquitous budget cuts, a decision by the state of California that had nothing to do with shuttering an allegedly violent detention center and everything to do with dollars and cents. 

Six years later, state and county officials have drawn up a plan to repurpose the facility as a wintertime homeless shelter. It would open in December or January and provide approximately 112 homeless residents with overnight shelter, through April. 

These homeless residents would be bussed into the facility at 5 p.m. and bussed out at 7 a.m. the following day to designated locations throughout Southern California. The program would be professionally managed by an agency that specializes in dealing with the homeless population. 

Initial reaction to the proposal has been mixed, with opponents utilizing the NIMBY argument – Not In My Backyard! Any plan that would bring more homeless to Norwalk is a non-starter, they say. 

The problem is, the homeless are already here. They are on Firestone Boulevard, loitering outside the Imperial Manor. They are behind Office Depot, sheltering in tents underneath the shadow of the 605 Freeway. They are on Studebaker Road, sprawled on the concrete floor at a bus stop. 

They are everywhere. 

The state/county proposal simply takes these people off the streets – or at least up to 112 of them – and offers them a warm, safe place to lay at night. It’s the humane, compassionate thing to do. 

Homelessness is a pandemic afflicting the entire region and citizens have indicated they are willing to finance effective solutions. 

By giving its blessing to the shelter, Norwalk can be a leader in the battle to make homelessness extinct in Los Angeles County. It can serve as a model to other communities – communities that too often prefer to kick the can down the road and make this regional issue someone else’s problem. 

Homelessness is not someone else’s problem. It’s our problem.

If Norwalk could house a juvenile prison for 58 years with nary a peep of controversy from residents, repurposing the facility into a temporary homeless shelter for 4 months seems like a no-brainer.

It’s simply the right thing to do. 

OpinionEric Pierce