January 26, 2016 § 18 Comments
They’re everywhere: beneath freeway overpasses, lining city streets, across from City Hall, the tents, tarps, bedding, and shopping carts letting us know that Los Angeles residents who have no other place to lay their heads have moved in. Although nearly a quarter of our homeless population clusters downtown, there’s not a council district in the city without people in need of permanent housing.
A few facts and figures:
Every two years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a joint city-county agency, sends volunteers out over a three day period to survey the unhoused wherever in the county they can be found. Last year’s count identified 25,686 homeless in the city of Los Angeles, a 12% increase over the previous census. While some of these folks had temporary refuge—in their cars, RVs, or shelter beds—nearly 70 percent were on the street. Single adults make up 82% of this population, but nearly 4500 are family members and 197 were unaccompanied minors. Men out-number women 2 to 1.
About one-third are chronically homeless. More than a quarter are 55 or older. Mental illness and/or addictions plague a third of the total population.
Almost half of the homeless are African-American, but overall, the disadvantaged in our county are a rainbow of white (22%) and Latino (21%) with small populations of Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
Veterans account for 11% of the total.
I guess a lot of residents have been complaining to City Council members and other officials that “Something ought to be done,” because Silverlake’s Neighborhood Council recently held a town hall on homelessness with an array of government representatives, service providers, and advocates. Judging from questions directed to panel members, “something” can mean either “How do we get those people out of our neighborhood” or “Let’s get these folks humanely housed.”
Big, beefy white guys make me nervous so I not did not have high hopes for the meeting when I entered the town hall venue and found a half-dozen LAPD officers back slapping and glad-handing.
Which, I later recognized, is just as unfair a prejudice as the sort many residents have towards people camped out on the street. What I learned from the Senior Lead Officers of Northeast and Ramparts Divisions is that police officers are the front line in the homeless crisis. They actually know these individuals, where they hang out, what they’re up to. They work within limitations placed on them by lawsuits over seizure of property. They know that the solution is not more policing, but political will to house every resident.
I also found out that city and county agencies are “doing something,” though their “something” doesn’t translate into more housing. The Bureau of Sanitation sent two representatives to the town hall who described how encampments–those large concentrations of homeless individuals– are cleaned and sanitized once a month, which often entails guys in hazmat gear handling human waste. Council District 13 staff go out every other week to collect trash and sweep around camps. Non-profit service providers do persistent outreach to people on the streets. Prosecutors from the City Attorney’s office made it clear that while criminal behavior in encampments is prosecuted, simply being homeless is not a crime. However much some residents would like to see the problem just go away, jailing people is not the answer.
Four walls and a roof would be, but, in a city where developers rule, housing for all remains a pipe dream.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, with the help of 6,000 volunteers, launches it homeless count this week. I’m not a betting person but if I were, I wouldn’t place money on the city’s total being less than last year’s figure.
January 19, 2016 § 1 Comment
The first Black president makes his final State of the Union address, and it’s spunky. He vigorously bats down Republican-peddled untruths about the economy, Muslims, national security, and foreign policy. He expresses regret at his inability to defuse the inter-party rancor that’s led to a Congressional logjam. He tells us to take care that our future workforce is well-educated and ready for technological challenges.
And how did our Newspaper of Record, the Los Angeles Times, report the President’s words? With a three-inch headline announcing that a professional football team will take up residence in Los Angeles. A story about the president’s address, meanwhile, was way down the page, below the fold.
Granted, the SOTU story carried inside to a two-page spread–news reporting accompanied by an analytical piece—but with more than half the space taken up by photos.
The football franchise, in contrast, got two front page stories occupying two-thirds of that page. These continued inside with more column inches of text than the POTUS received.
Why do I even bother with the outrage?
The LA Times has been flailing about for years and not just because of massive changes in the media world. The decision by third and fourth-generation scions of the Otis-Chandler family, which had controlled the newspaper for 125 years, to sell off the business in a highly leveraged deal sent the paper into bankruptcy. Lay-offs, buy-outs, and other cost-cutting has resulted in far less actual news, fewer features, and enormous headlines and photographs to make up the deficit.
One of the photos placed with the football story exemplifies these dispiriting tendencies. Men decked out in team jackets, jerseys, and hats displaying a team flag, banner and even an enormous cut-out of the new team owner’s disembodied head were identified in the accompanying caption as “jubilant Rams fans.” Maybe some of the guys were locals excited about NFL’s return to L.A. but please don’t tell me they’ve been keeping all that gear in the closet for 20 years, waiting for the Rams to return. It was a pep rally equipped by team marketing managers, a non-event created for the media, which the Times reported as news.
Pretty shabby, no?