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Crews clear homeless encampment in vacant building to make way for affordable housing development in Long Beach

People who had been living in the long-shuttered mental health facility were forced to clear out on Thursday.

Crews clear homeless encampment in vacant building to make way for affordable housing development in Long Beach
Long Beach Clean Team and Ocean Blue Environmental Services clear a homeless encampment inside a vacant mental health facility at 4151 E. Fountain St. near Bryant Elementary Thursday, April 18, 2024. The building is set to be demolitioned to make way for an affordable housing development. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

A cul-de-sac in Long Beach’s Bryant neighborhood was bustling Thursday morning with city crews and police as they worked to clear a homeless encampment inside a long-abandoned mental health facility that is set to be demolished.

The property at 4151 E. Fountain St. previously served as a mental health facility but has been shuttered since 2015. Last year, however, the city approved plans from Linc Housing to develop 73 affordable units for families and individuals with disabilities.


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The project would consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom units inside two buildings (four and three stories) as well as 67 parking stalls, 22 bike stalls, 3,620 square feet of indoor common space and more than 5,400 square feet of outdoor common space, according to city documents.

But before construction can begin, the existing structure must be cleared out and demolished — a process that began Thursday with the removal of people who had been living in the building.

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“We had a roof over our head for six months,” said Darrell Roy, who had been living in the abandoned building with his girlfriend and their dog. “Now we’re out on the street again. It’s annoying, it’s bulls—, it’s frustrating.”

Numerous city departments were at the scene to assist with the cleanup, including Health and Human Services’ Homeless Services Team, Community Development, Public Works and the police and fire departments, according to Community Development spokesperson Chelsey Magallon. The police presence included SWAT, the Quality of Life Team, patrol officers, bike officers and the Indicent Management team, she added.

Six people were found living in the building, Magallon said, adding that three citations were issued but no arrests were made. Before the cleanup, Homeless Services conducted “extensive outreach at the site and connected 39 people to shelters,” according to Magallon.

Crews from the city’s Clean Team and Ocean Blue Environmental Services were on hand donning hazmat suits and masks as they cleaned out the building of personal belongings and trash.

“They gave us five minutes to get our stuff out, that’s it,” Roy told the Watchdog, noting that at its peak there were upward of 30 unhoused people living in the facility. “There’s people who have been staying here for six years.”

“I know people who have been on housing lists for three years,” Roy continued, lamenting the lack of housing and funding for expanded resources for unhoused residents. “It’s a joke.”

City staff were on hand as the Long Beach Clean Team and Ocean Blue Environmental Services cleared a homeless encampment inside a vacant mental health facility at 4151 E. Fountain St. Thursday, April 18, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The clean-up comes the day after Mayor Rex Richardson and others celebrated the grand opening of another affordable housing project in Cambodia Town. During the event, Richardson boasted about the city’s progress in developing affordable housing, noting Long Beach is permitting and building more than any other city in Los Angeles County.

That progress, however, has been concentrated largely in the southwest areas of the city, according to a staff presentation to the City Council Tuesday night. Staff noted that Districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 — the city’s more affluent areas — have seen little affordable housing development compared to other areas.

Combined, those districts have 498 completed or approved affordable rental units, while the remaining five districts have 3,454. The Fountain Avenue project is located in the city’s 3rd District, which currently only has 76 completed affordable units — a figure that will jump to 148 once the Linc project is completed sometime in 2026.

The new development has received pushback from residents, who have turned out to public meetings to voice their disapproval of having low-income housing in their neighborhood.

One couple, who declined to give their names, told the Watchdog Thursday that they have lived up the street from the vacant property for almost three years and that it has been a “horrible experience,” with people walking up and down the street at all hours of the night, going to the bathroom in public and selling and doing drugs in the open. Car break-ins and package thefts have also been an issue, they said.

“At times I would be scared,” one woman said, adding that she would not let her children use the swing in their front yard unless she was with them. “I didn’t feel like they were safe.”

The woman said she and other neighbors would call the police regularly and request city assistance but it never came in any meaningful way.

“We would complain but there was nothing being done until now,” she said, adding that she has mixed feelings about the future development.

“I’m happy because they’re trying to help low-income people,” she said. “But at the same time, I just hope that it’s people that are not causing more problems.”

The city is undergoing a similar process for another affordable housing project on the corner of Wardlow Road and Cerritos Avenue in the California Heights neighborhood. Given the issues faced at the Fountain Avenue property, the city is moving quickly to demolish the Cal Heights property before it becomes a nuisance, according to Meggan Sorensen, manager of the city’s Housing & Neighborhood Services Bureau.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from city staff.

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