This story was originally published in La Opinión
Tenants of Ramona Gardens public housing complex in Boyle Heights have a public library available just across the bridge that goes over the 10 Freeway.
They also have another a few blocks away. But Zoila Covarrubias, a single mother of four children, says she and most residents in the area aren’t encouraged to bring their children to nearby libraries and prefer to avoid conflict.
The problem has roots as deep as the presence of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). This public housing complex is governed by what Los Angeles Police Department Captain Phil Tingirides calls “unwritten rules, invisible lines that people can not cross.” It is the influence of gangs.
“The truth is that sometimes it is dangerous to leave your apartment in your area,” said Covarrubias, 40. “My 8-year-old daughter never had the chance to go to libraries.”
The story will be different for her 4-year-old daughter, Belen Rivas, who discovered yesterday, with a big smile, a new library two buildings away from her apartment. Ramona Gardens is the first of 14 public housing complexes in the city to have a facility of this nature within its perimeter.
“I love to read, and I love this library,” said Rivas, after hearing Tingirides read a book in the remodeled mobile unit. “I want to come five times a week.”
From now on, children like Rivas who are in the Head Start program that prepares them for kindergarten, and young adults have access to thousands of books donated by the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), among others, and without security concerns.
“For five years the residents of this housing complex called for a library, so this can be considered a dream come true,” said Maggie Aguilar, president of the Resident Advisory Council (RAC) which oversees over 1,600 residents, most of them Latino.
The library is part of an educational initiative by HACLA aimed at providing children living in public housing units the elements necessary to pursue a better future.
“Reading is a building block in the learning process,” said Ken Simmons, chief operating officer of HACLA.
Sylvia Galan-Garcia, manager of more than a dozen libraries in Northeast Los Angeles, said that “it was a pleasure to help in this project because I found it very serious that the children here do not feel safe in using the services of nearby public libraries, such as Malabar.”
The situation is very serious because children as young as 9 years old face problems when they leave their neighborhoods and come to some gang-dominated areas, which in this case is the ‘Big Hazard’, according to agent Sally Santamaria of the Community Safety Partnership (CSP), a partnership between residents and the LAPD.