Twenty feet south of the intersection of Market and 14th streets in the East Village is a yellow street sign affixed to a pole. In black capital letters, the sign reads “Senior Citizen Facility.”
The Potiker Family Senior Residence, built in 2003, offers 200 affordable housing units for low-income seniors aged 62 and older, as well as mental and social support for its residents, nearly 30 percent of whom have been homeless at one time.
Across 14th Street from Potiker’s entrance is a metal gate covered with thin bamboo fencing to block the view. Inside the gate, a former parking lot has been refashioned into a meeting area. White chairs face a small lectern. Three older buildings surround the space. They house recently released prisoners who are on parole for drug offenses and are transitioning from prison drug rehab to community-based treatment. The all-male facility, called the Lighthouse, is a temporary home for up to 100 men. And the meeting area is where they sit down for group treatment and therapy sessions.
Last year, a nonprofit group called Shelter Partnership, dedicated to ending homelessness in Los Angeles, named Potiker Family Senior Residence as one of the nation’s five best practice models to aid understanding of mixed-population housing for both homeless people and low-income households. The report included a paragraph about the proximity of Potiker to the drug treatment facility: “A strong neighborly relationship has also developed between residents at Potiker and residents at the halfway house located across the street, with halfway house residents taking a protective stance towards the seniors.”
But while most of Potiker’s residents would agree that the Lighthouse residents are protective, many also say they are loud and intimidating. For those whose windows open out to 14th Street, the noise from the Lighthouse keeps them up late into the night and rouses them from sleep early in the morning.
“Anna,” a 70-year-old resident of Potiker, stops her electric scooter a block south of the front entrance to her building. She asks that her real name not be revealed. She looks around for anyone who might overhear us. “They start every morning around six with a group shout from 50 or 60 men. Roll call is the beginning of our day. They fight, swear, and show a general disregard for those within earshot.”
Anna’s voice quavers. She looks around again as though she were an informant trading classified secrets. “If they took ‘mother-effer’ out of the vocabulary, they wouldn’t have anything to say,” she complains. “Once I counted ‘motherfucker’ 15 times in five minutes.”
Anna pulls out a small video recorder from a bag strapped around the back of her seat. She presses play and scrolls through 47 recordings of Lighthouse residents yelling on the sidewalk and talking during group meetings. She has recorded the noise infractions for over a year.
The recordings range in length from 20 to 40 seconds. Some were made just before dawn. Male voices shout out names. It sounds like a roll call in a correctional institution.
“Car wash, car wash, c’mon, you need one. We need donations. Car wash, car wash…c’mon” was captured on one recording last summer.
On another recording made at night, two men can be heard shouting at each other. “Why you wanna do that? Do you wanna live or die? Fuck you.”
“Those are only just a few,” Anna says as she scrolls through the video library.
Since Anna moved into her small studio apartment, which looks out onto 14th Street, the noise has disturbed her. The profanity and the shouting frighten her. She cranks up the volume on her television to drown out the noise, but it isn’t enough. She sleeps with the TV set blaring. She’s tried closing her window, but that cuts off air circulation.
Anna is not the only person bothered by the loud noise from across the street. On May 20, she sat down at a sidewalk table outside the nearby Albertsons with two of her neighbors to discuss the noise from the Lighthouse.
Will Booth is 70 years old. He is tall, lean, and outspoken. He wears a navy blue Padres hat, a T-shirt, and jeans. He looks upset. He holds a five- by eight-inch notebook.
“Three buildings surround the meeting area, and it amounts to a megaphone or a funnel effect,” explains Booth. “It just shoots all the noise straight to us. They start at 6:30 every morning. They get rowdy and they get loud. There are 50 to 60 people there. They get very confrontational during these therapy sessions, dropping F-bombs and mother F-bombs and a bunch of other crap language. Most of them are yelling at the top of their lungs.
“There’s not much you can do,” he continues. “These rooms are all studios. I have to crack my door open and open my window in order to get any cross-ventilation. It’s as if they have no concept of what ‘neighbor’ means.”
Booth opens his notebook and flips to a page full of pen scribbles. He has gone to the local law library to do research on the feasibility of filing a lawsuit, that is, if he can find a lawyer willing to work pro bono. He reads a brief passage from the California Civil Code. “A nuisance is a wrong arising from the unreasonable, improper, indecent, or unlawful use of property to the annoyance or damage of another, or the general public.”
“They are yelling at the top of their lungs,” he says. “This isn’t conversational. They are seriously shouting. Even the leaders are loud. It’s a nuisance.”
“And it goes on all day too,” adds “Abe,” an 80-year-old neighbor who is also at the table. Abe has lived at Potiker the longest. He says noise has always been an issue for him but there’s not much he can do about it so he manages to “tune it out.”
Anna thinks that the reason he can tune it out is because he is hard of hearing.
The three residents say that others in their building complain about the noise but are too scared to come forward. They claim that staff at Potiker refuses to help, telling them that they have to file noise complaints with the police. Involving the police, says Anna, is too much for many of her elderly neighbors.
“They fear that they won’t be safe walking out of their apartment or going to the grocery store, so they keep their mouths shut.”
The three say that they respect the Lighthouse and what the facility does for parolees and they hope the men are able to turn their lives around, but they say intentions don’t have anything to do with it.
“They do have a mission, and it seems to be effective,” says Booth. “I’ve never seen a cop there taking them away, but there’s got to be a balance. I should think that would be part of their message besides staying sober: don’t be a loud, sober jerk.”
Interrupts Anna, “What is their therapy based on? If that’s their respect for the neighborhood, what are they teaching these guys? Is that how they are going to go back into society?”
Anna has complained to Potiker’s management and placed calls to the police department. She has also called the Lighthouse staff and Centre City Development Corporation, but nothing has been done and the noise continues.
“Pleas for help have gone unanswered,” says Anna. “The elderly, frail, and fearful are expected to sign complaints with the police.”
“I’ve stuck my head out of the window,” says Booth, “and yelled at them to keep it down, but they yell right back at me using that foul language. ‘Ah, shut up, old man,’ they say.”
While the Potiker residents feel they are being ignored, this correspondent didn’t fare much better when seeking information about noise complaints. “At this time I am going to refer you to the City to answer any questions that you may have on our facility,” wrote the director of the Lighthouse, Laura Garcia, in a May 21 email. “I am not going to enter into any sort of verbal banter with parties unknown. We follow a good neighbor policy, as we are an established business for the last ten years.”
This correspondent also attempted to contact Paul Downey, the president and chief executive officer for Senior Community Centers, the organization that owns Potiker Family Senior Residence, but Downey did not respond.
“We feel that [Potiker staff] should stick up for us, but they don’t,” says Anna.
“Who really cares? We are just ‘old people.’”