A group of some 20 Korean Christian leaders gathered at the Olympic station of the Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday morning to discuss potential ways that they could partner with the community leaders to address the issue of homelessness in the city.
The event, organized by the office of Senator Pro Tempore Kevin de León, featured brief remarks from Ben Pak, the field deputy of the office of Senator de León; Hyepin Im, the president of Korean Churches for Community Development (KCCD); Officer David Storaker, one of the captains of the Olympic Division of the LAPD; and Steve Houchins, the deputy city attorney of Los Angeles. Those who attended were given a brief time towards the end of the hour-long meeting to ask questions and share information.
"The Asian community might behave differently than others, but we have the same needs," said Hyepin Im. "And usually, when we have these kinds of gatherings, the community stays quiet. But I hope the Asian American community can take advantage of opportunities like this to boldly speak out about their needs and interests regarding the issue of homelessness."
After brief remarks from Officer Storaker regarding safety and how members of the community can handle emergency situations such as shootings ("Don't just hide under a table and become a sitting target; get out of there as fast as you can," he emphasized), city attorney Steve Houchins spoke for the majority of the hour on what he and the LAPD Olympic Division have been doing to try to help alleviate the homelessness in the city, and what the members of the faith community can do to help.
"If there's one thing I can take away from this meeting, I would like a strong partnership," said Houchins. "And mainly, I need your help in coordinating outreach, to help people on the streets with their needs."
Though each of the 21 LAPD divisions have different methods of trying to alleviate homelessness, Houchins said that a unique initiative that the Olympic division has been carrying out is what he called the "HOPE" car -- a team that is solely dedicated to issues related to homelessness in the Olympic division. HOPE (Homeless Outreach Partnership Endeavor) has at least one officer whose full-time duty is to deal with any issues that arise related to homelessness, and also partners with county agencies such as LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), LADMH (Los Angeles Department of Mental Health); and non-profit agencies such as Homeless Healthcare, United Way, and PATH. Through HOPE, the LAPD collaborates with individuals in these agencies to work on projects together to distribute care packages and/or hygeiene kits, for example, and clean up sidewalks and streets. The "HOPE car" also directly drives individuals without homes to available shelters every week on Fridays.
"We want the faith-based community to be a part of this partnership," Houchins said.
He went on to say that the primary way the community can help is by sharing information with Houchins, the LAPD, and elected officials about people they know or what they have experienced as they do their work related to homelessness. Hyepin Im added that there are no specifically Korean agencies that target the issue of homelessness, and encouraged those who gathered to be the voice for the Korean American community regarding the issue.
Houchins added that though he encourages the faith community to be generous and continue showing compassion to "some of the most vulernable of our community," residual effects of certain actions must also be taken into consideration. For example, consistently handing out food, clothes, blankets, or tents at a specific park may cause those who are on the streets to start anchoring themselves at that location.
"Psychologically, everyone has that desire to have a home," Houchins explained, "and for many of those who are homeless, they start attaching themselves to certain locations as their homes."
"This is why communication with people like me, and our LAPD officers here, is so important," he said.
Houchins and others who were part of the meeting mentioned regular meetings such as the Olympic division clergy council which takes place mostly on a monthly basis, and the CPAB (Community-Police Advisory Board) meetings which also takes place on a monthly basis in every police division, and encouraged faith leaders to participate and join the discussions. Those who attended also were logged into an email listserv, which will be used to notify them of future gatherings specific to discussing the issue of homelessness.
"This was just the first meeting, but I'm hoping that through gatherings like this, we can become more informed and become better partners to combat this issue," said Ben Pak. "This is my problem. This is my city. This is where my kids will grow up. And I hope members of the community would be more and more involved in this discussion for those reasons."
Most of the Korean Christian leaders who were present were Korean-speaking leaders of Korean immigrant churches, including Rev. Kyu-Suh Uhm, the newly inaugurated president of the Korean Pastors Association of Southern California and Rev. John Jongdai Park, the chairman of the board of KCCD. Rev. James Cho, adjunct professor at Grace Mission Univesity, Rev. Jae Lee, director of the Rose Hills Arrangement Center, and Rev. James Yu, lead pastor of Community Christian Center in El Monte, were also among those present.