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Long Beach: Controversial Mental Health Facility Finds New Home; Schroeder Hall Moves Forward

8:23 AM PDT on March 19, 2013

After a long and arduous battle that pitted neighborhood fears of wandering homeless folk against the acquirement of an Army-owned property that the city hoped to turn into a new police substation, it seems that the city plans for Schroeder Hall are moving forward as planned. Instead of building the federally-mandated homeless facility near Schroeder (and, for some, much too close to Stearns Park), the Mental Health America (MHA)-operated facility will be located at 1955 Long Beach Boulevard.

The homeless are, despite one's viewpoint on the subject, a relatively invisible host of bodies in Long Beach. They're there, but most residents rarely acknowledge their presence. Like a trash can, citizens usually relegate them automatically to the role of inanimate scenery.

That is, until a 9-to-5 mental health facility that caters to them is suddenly being proposed some 1.5 miles from an affluent Long Beach neighborhood. Then, Long Beach residents speak up--and they spoke up raucously for over five years in the dreaded tale that is the acquirement of Schroeder Hall.

The former Schroeder Hall Army Reserve Center sits in the 5th District of Long Beach at Grand Avenue and Willow Street and was offered to the city by the U.S. Army as "surplus property" in 2006. Given its surplus designation, certain rules have to be followed via the McKinney Act signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987--particularly Title V, which mandates that surplus federal properties must also provide a facility that caters to the homeless via a nonprofit in addition to its use by states and local governments.

The latter? A new East Division police substation that is needed. The nonprofit? MHA, which caters to the mentally ill homeless in which the city felt would best be housed in a one-acre site directly across from Schroeder Hall.

Given the double-whammy of homeless AND mentally ill, the placement of the facility immediately stirred up intense fears amongst Stearns Park residents, who live over a mile from the previously proposed site. Dissenters proposed the facility be built somewhere else--that is, the West Side, Central Long Beach, or North Long Beach, where similar facilities already exist.

In an October 2012 City Council, 4th District resident Joe Sopo, who also led an neighborhood organization that protested the proposed MHA site, said, "The kind of clients that they’re going to bring in there does not work... These people are hidden under the freeways, they’re anti-social, they’re treatment-resistant, they hear voices, and they don’t take their medication."

4th District residents can now breathe a sigh of gentrified relief since 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske noted a site near Long Beach Boulevard and 20th that more industrial and business-like, though residents live only a block away. And that is precisely what is happening with a $4 million purchase and renovation that 6th District Councilmember Dee Andrews called "a positive benefit for the community."

According to Andrews, the MHA site will be required to assimilate more of their facility into an amenities-based operation that, on top of providing mental health services and job training to the homeless, create amenities including an outside patio, a coffee bar, a deli/bakery, and meeting spaces and free wi-fi.

In other words, co-existing with the neighborhood rather than stirring up fears.

Though one can ponder why 6th District residents can co-exist much easier than those of the 4th--while Stearns Park remained 1.5 miles away from the previously proposed MHA site, houses sit directly behind the new one. It is refreshing that a 24-hour phone line for citizens to express neighborhood concerns is being required. At least for now, people seem appeased.

The City Council will officially visit the item on its agenda at tonight's meeting.

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