The Academy of Media Arts was forced to close its doors on January 15 because the area’s homeless population was prompting safety concerns, according to a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Dana Hammond, the school’s founder. The Times reported that 50 high schoolers, many of whom were from “low-income Black and Latino families,” were enrolled at the educational institution.
The school’s campus was housed inside the L.A. Grand Hotel, which is also the location of a homeless shelter. Since 2021, the hotel has participated in Los Angeles Democratic Mayor Karen Bass’ Inside Safe housing program. The school moved into the hotel in 2022 on the guarantee that the housing program would end soon, according to the lawsuit. However, the program was extended.
Prior to moving into the hotel, the school was located at a church. The academy enrolled 250 students at one point, but enrollment fell to approximately 50. According to Hammond, the steep drop made it impossible for him to pay the $100,000 monthly rent by mid-January.
Comments left on one of the school’s classroom whiteboards read, “Human poop on sidewalk. The smell of urine across campus. Outburst from ‘Inside Safe’ tenants. Break-ins by ‘Inside Safe’ tenants. Drug paraphernalia found on campus. ‘Inside Safe’ tenants found in trash bins.”
According to reports obtained by the school’s security and reviewed by the Times, a man residing at the hotel as part of the program threatened security personnel. In another instance, a woman exposed herself to students. In a separate instance, a naked woman behind the school threatened to “shoot and stab” security personnel.
“Our students’ lives were in jeopardy because of the Inside Safe residents,” Hammond stated. “We’re not enemies of the homeless shelter, we just can’t put them in the same building as a high school.”
Clara Karger, a spokesperson for Bass, told the Times that the city heightened security at the hotel to create a safer environment for students. According to Karger, the city installed additional fencing, conducted on-site visits, and worked with the school’s security personnel to respond to calls.
The Times reported that the hotel is owned by Wei Huang, a Chinese billionaire who was found guilty of bribery and fraud after his real estate company, Shen Zhen New World I, was reportedly linked to a corruption case. Huang was fined $4 million and fled the country in 2018. He is considered a fugitive.
“Huang repeatedly made false and misleading representations to suggest that the L.A. Grand Hotel would cease to be a homeless shelter in the near future, despite the fact that Huang had no intention of terminating the lucrative agreement,” Hammond claimed.
Krager told the Times, “The mayor’s office does not condone the behavior of the fugitive owner of the Grand.”
“The L.A. Grand has brought hundreds of unhoused individuals inside from the tough elements of living on the streets. The work continues to save lives every day,” Karger added.
Approximately 47,000 homeless people are living in the city. Los Angeles spends more than $1 billion annually to provide services to homeless individuals.
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