Some residents and business people who live near the corner of the former West Coast Choppers building, where television personality Jesse James manufactured customized motorcycles, are worried about plans to use it as a temporary homeless shelter during the winter months. Jim Lewis, CEO of the Long Beach Rescue Mission, said those worries will disappear when locals realize that no homeless person will be able to walk to and from the shelter. Instead, those staying at the facility will be picked up by vans from locations several miles away during the late afternoon and taken back to those locations the following morning.
“We plan to use it as a shelter only during the three-and-one-half months that have the coldest temperatures of the year,” Lewis said. “And the way we have operated our temporary shelters over the past several years has never resulted in problems to any of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
James closed his business in Long Beach and moved to Texas recently, and the 26,000-square-foot building at 710 West Anaheim Street that served as his company’s headquarters was listed for sale. “We have had a strategic plan in place for about four years that looked at our existing properties,” Lewis said. “When we looked at allowable uses for our facility on Pine Avenue and Anaheim Street– the former Workforce Development building– we found that we were very limited in the ways that we could expand our services across the street from the mission site.”
He explained that for many years the Mission operated its thrift store in that building, but it was not bringing much profit, so the Mission board of directors decided to sell the property to a developer who would redevelop the site to include a supermarket and affordable housing. “Both of those things are greatly needed in that area,” he added. “But because the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency went out of existence and some other issues came up, that project failed.”
Lewis noted that while that was happening, about two years ago, the Mission acquired a warehouse in North Long Beach at 6845 Atlantic Ave.– the former Atlantic Farms building. “We got a loan to purchase that building on the basis of being able to sell the property at Pine and Anaheim,” he said, adding that shortly after purchasing the Atlantic Avenue property, the Mission began using it as a warehouse to store food and clothing and as a temporary homeless shelter during the winter months. Later, when mission staff analyzed the use of that building, they determined that it would be less costly and more efficient to own and operate such a facility closer to the Mission, which is located at 1430 Pacific Ave.
Meanwhile, another purchaser-developer surfaced for the property at Pine and Anaheim. “They are Urban Offerings, and they already have a potential tenant for the building– the Long Beach Guidance Center, which provides counseling to youth and families,” Lewis said.
Lewis added that in spite of the failure of the original planned sale of the Pine and Anaheim site, the Mission had managed to pay off the loan for the Atlantic Avenue property. “And we had already gone to the board for permission to allow us to purchase another warehouse that would be more appropriate for us and that would need less work than the one we had in North Long Beach,” he said. “At the same time the Jesse James property became available at a greatly reduced price.”
Lewis explained that soon thereafter, the board approved the purchase of that property. Last July the formal process of selling the Anaheim and Pine property and purchasing the West Coast Choppers property began. Commenting on the escrow process, Lewis noted, “The last eight months have been a wild rollercoaster ride for both these contingent transactions, but we saw God’s hand in them coming together within one day of each other as designed.” He explained that the board’s approval of the building’s purchase was contingent on the sale of the Pine Avenue property. “If we didn’t sell the one, we could not purchase the other,” he said. “We’re delighted to make use of this large, upgraded facility so that we can better fulfill our mission of serving the homeless and providing holistic rehabilitation, especially as needs have been increasing.”
Lewis explained that the former West Coast Choppers site will be used as the Mission’s warehouse for food and clothing distributed to homeless people. Items stored at the warehouse will also be transported to smaller thrift stores the Mission plans to open in various areas of Long Beach in the near future. In addition, according to Lewis, the facility will accommodate its job-training program and serve as the temporary shelter during the winter months.
Lewis noted that the Mission sold the Pine Avenue property for $2,450,000, and purchased theWest Coast Choppers site for $2,140,000. He added that the building had been severely vandalized. “We are going to have to replace the plumbing and the electrical,” he said. Meanwhile, plans are underway to sell the North Long Beach warehouse.
Lewis mentioned that for the most part, neighborhood and business associations in the vicinity of 702 West Anaheim Street support the Mission’s planned use of the recently acquired facility. “There are some people with concerns about the winter months shelter, but those concerns are based on misinformation,” he said. “The people who will stay at the shelter will be shuttled back and forth from locations several miles away, and once they arrive at the shelter they will be required to remain inside until the next morning when the van will take them back to the place where they had been picked up.”
Lewis noted that every winter in Southern California, several homeless people die from exposure to cold, wet weather. “As a society, we have to do what we can to stop people from dying in the cold,” he said. “For the past two years, we have used the North Long Beach facility as a winter shelter, and we have had no problems in the surrounding community. In running this program for the past six years in three different council districts, we have never had any complaints.”