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Homeless no longer welcome at Union Station

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Alicia Mendivil said she was scared when a guard asked to see her ticket before she sat down in one of Union Station's art deco armchairs, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

The Yuma, Ariz., woman didn't feel much better when she learned the reason: a crackdown on homeless people who officials said had turned the cavernous downtown transportation hub into a shelter.

"You can tell a homeless person from somebody who's not, can't you?" said Mendivil, a Christmas wreath brooch winking from her lapel.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mendivil had encountered a pilot program launched Dec. 9 by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority putting seats in the historic structure off-limits to all but ticketed Amtrak and Metrolink passengers.

Last summer, an average of 135 homeless people a night were gathering inside the terminal, commandeering bathrooms, sprawling across seats and intimidating customers with aggressive panhandling, MTA officials said.

Ken Pratt, director of Los Angeles Union Station Property Management for the MTA, said, "We were getting a lot of complaints. Our clientele isn't particularly well-heeled. They were being prevented from using the terminal,” according to the Times article.

The agency has started a major renovation of Union Station. Some downtown residents say the seat closure is pushing people with nowhere else to go out into the cold.

They also say the agency is blocking access to one of the city's most elegant buildings. The 1939 structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. "It continues this trend of telling people not to be in public places," said Richard Schave, who operates a historic tour business with his wife, Kim Cooper.

According to Pratt, the MTA tried closing the station from 1 to 4 a.m. so janitors could thoroughly clean. Even so, it became "uninhabitable," he said, with unsanitary conditions and health threats including bedbugs and scabies.

"We saw people removing insects from themselves and dropping them on chairs next to them," Pratt said.

The bug problem has since been resolved. The MTA removed 58 seats that were blocking the passenger concourse and is refurbishing the 224 leather and mahogany armchairs that remain, Pratt said. Painting inside and out is scheduled.

Outreach workers from the L.A. County Housing Services Authority have been visiting regularly to get the homeless people to shelters and other services. Pratt said the pilot program will be modified as needed. A waiting area for bus customers is in the works.

The Times article said Mayor Eric Garcetti will ask the MTA board to discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting. "We want to make sure there's a real solution to the issue of homelessness at Union Station," Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said.

With daily traffic of up to 60,000 to 75,000 commuters and travelers, the transportation hub can't solve the homeless problem, Pratt said.

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