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.
December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
My very first day in Los Angeles, my host took me to Venice Beach. Why? I don’t know; it was Memorial Day, screaming hot, and the place was packed with people. Jerry Brown ran for president that year and there was even a campaign rally gearing up.
Is all of L.A. this crazy? I wondered.
I’ve been back to Venice many time since then and seen the beachfront in more pacific moods, most recently on Thanksgiving day. Tourists were out, shops and eateries were open, vendors had their wares displayed (calaveras appear to be the souvenir du jour), skateboarders were in their pit, homeless folks gathered under the palms–but the crowds were elsewhere (Wal-Mart, maybe?) and the mood was mellow.
Here are a few shots from Venice Beach and vicinity:
February 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
I came across this bundled figure as I finished my walk through Atwater Village Friday morning. He lay at the far end of the parking lot where I had left my car.
The heavy sky had just begun to spit rain. I snapped the photo and walked on, ready to drive home. Then, I paused.
What was my responsibility to this man, out there in the rain? We’re so used to people living their lives in public spaces. “At least I notice,” I congratulate myself now and again for not turning away. Or not believing the homeless want to live as they do. For volunteering at a cold weather shelter. For buying panhandlers food.
All very well, but that still left a man in the rain.
I sighed and fished a five dollar bill out of my wallet. That was more than I usually hand out; I suspect the largesse was as much balm for my distress as for his.
I drove to the spot where the man lay, approached, and, in my well-mannered way, softly said, “Excuse me.”
He didn’t stir. And I didn’t want to wake him; the rain would do that soon enough.
Lying on the ground beside him in a plastic sheet protector was a sign written in pencil: “I am homeless.” I tucked the five inside the plastic and left.
Maybe it was still there when he woke, maybe it wasn’t.
At times like these, I think of the old story about a woman faulted for honoring a noted teacher with an extravagant gift. Better the money be used for the poor, onlookers carp. But the teacher silenced critics, saying, “She did what lay within her power to do.”
Whatever we do on occasions such as these is never enough and often not even the best thing. But: we do what we can, one five dollar bill at a time.