A large crowd – including many Sunset Park residents – participated in a forum organized by Step Up on Second, an organization devoted to helping those with mental illness, to discuss its proposed Sunset Park transitional housing project.
The project, slated for 1826 Pearl Street, would include transitional and permanent supportive housing for those between 18 and 28 who are part of Step Up on Second’s Daniel’s Place program. Daniel’s Place serves young adults who are experiencing their first symptoms of mental illness.
Literature on the proposed project states that those chosen to live in the project would be “rigorously pre-screened,” closely monitored, receive “ongoing case management” and 24-hour staff supervision, including a live-in staff. In addition, all “participants will be actively engaged in their goals – community college, job training and mental health treatment.”
Many of those at the meeting opposed the project being placed in their Sunset Park neighborhood. Say Chin So stated, “Our issue is not with the mentally ill young people. It’s with the choice of location in a residential neighborhood smack in the middle of two schools (Grant Elementary and John Adams Middle Schools).
Stephanie Perlon told the panel of mental health professionals, “You’re pretty insistent upon being in a community that doesn’t want you residentially…why are you adamant about coming to Pearl? Would you even entertain the thought of relocating this project?”
Another Sunset Park resident stated to a round of applause, “The true reason why we’re here is they already have it. There’s nothing we can do.” The City Council has “sanctioned this. This is a great forum. It’s a time for us to vent. We need to talk to the Council and they need to talk to us so this doesn’t happen ever again unless we want it.”
Others had concerns that such a facility would cause their real estate values to drop and whether residents had to disclose the housing project was there when they sell their homes. There was also anxiety that the facility would create additional parking problems on an already congested street.
There were also neighbors of the project who spoke in its favor. Glen Kemp voiced his support by stressing, “Communities provide treatment for their ill members. All the people who are potential beneficiaries of this are Santa Monica residents. These people are here. They are sick and they need help. If we don’t help them,0 they’ll still be here but won’t be getting help. To ignore these people and not help them is inhuman.”
Tod Lipka, the Chief Executive Officer of Step Up on Second, tried to reassure those residents who were opposed to the project. “It’s a lot to ask to trust us.” He then stressed the facility, which will house seven people, would be adequately staffed and preference would be given to Santa Monica residents.
Step Up on Second’s Clinical Director Barbara Hold tried to calm the fears of residents who were concerned that those living there would go off their needed medications and thus become a threat to the community. “If someone is not taking their medicine, we will act immediately.”
Jeff Becker, M.D., a staff psychiatrist with Step Up on Second, told the crowded room, “Our community needs to come together to support this project to prevent homelessness.”
Lipka also mentioned that his organization is in the process of “developing an ongoing oversight committee made up of representatives from Step Up on Second and community members to monitor the project’s impact on the community” and make modifications to avoid any negative impacts.
Step On Second has applied to the City’s Housing Division for a $456,000 loan to help purchase the 1826 Pearl Street property. Lipka stated that they are currently in escrow. If it closes successfully they will spend a number of months fixing up the property and will probably begin operation in the summer of 2007.