Anaheim Trash King Wants Homeless to Live in Boyle Heights Sears

Developer and waste management professional Bill Taormina thinks it won’t be “anything like a prison” if he can warehouse the unhoused

The iconic, empty former Sears building in Boyle Heights is so nice thousands of homeless people should go live there. And once it’s been transformed into a massive apartment complex, services could be provided for all of those residents, too. And it won’t be “anything like a prison,” either.

That’s mega-rich Anaheim garbage baron Bill Taormina’s dream, anyway. Taormina wants to re-brand the disused tower as the “Los Angeles Life Rebuilding Center” and put it to work housing 10,000 unhoused people, according to the Los Angeles Times. In addition, the major land developer and philanthropist envisions the building as a sort of full-service center for its tenants, delivering medical care, mental health services, job training, help with immigration, and assistance to get off drugs.

The project would be dedicated to “saving lives,” Taormina told the audience June 27 at the auditorium of Boyle Heights Resurrection School, generously assuring the assembled that he certainly doesn’t intend to create “anything like a prison.”

Apparently, the homelessness crisis is one of Taormina’s things. The trash king has helped finance several housing projects for the homeless in Orange County over the years, according to the Times. (Like this 200-bed shelter in Santa Ana that he secured the building for). He’s also known for stunts like offering $10K and a free house (See if you can spot the catch).

His presentation was met with resistance, with people holding signs reading, “No Sears Detention Center,” and “Respect Our Community.”

Dozens of residents spoke out against his plan, calling it everything from “a crime against humanity,” to “a threat to the area’s children.” Many residents felt that resources should also be diverted to the people in the community who were struggling day-to-day but were not homeless.

“Many people don’t have health insurance or dental insurance—some can’t afford dialysis,” Jasmine Flores, 21, told the Times. “To wrap my head around hundreds of millions of dollars going to bring people from outside this community and help them settle, while ignoring us—it was too much.”

The Sears housing idea has been received as ill-conceived by Boyle Heights residents and, on a structural level, echoes the oft-criticized but longstanding approach to helping low-income tenants—creating high-density pockets of people at or below the poverty, i.e. the projects, which are widely considered a failure today.

Currently, forward-thinking urban planners look toward mixed-income housing for low-income tenants as well as those exiting homelessness.

Not to mention, moving a large number of displaced people into a giant structure not designed as housing has negative connotations, for instance the Superdome catastrophe during Hurricane Katrina.

What’s more, many homeless people have difficulty adjusting to indoor or long-term apartment living after years spent on the streets. Permanent supportive housing is the model typically used to help the previously-unhoused make the transition. It remains to be seen whether Taormina’s planned services will be enough to aid thousands of homeless people undergoing this transition.

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