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.
July 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
It must be five years since the Coffee Table, a beloved Silverlake eatery and gathering place on Rowena, was closed and boarded up, victim of a developer’s scheme to install condos in its place. Eventually it was razed along with a ratty board and care facility and several storefronts; the 1.44 acre parcel then sat empty.
I’ve never thought of myself as one to nurse a grudge, yet every time I walked to Trader Joe’s past the lot devoid of all but opportunistic castor plants, I grumbled at how neighborhoods are forever at the mercy of someone with enough cash to rip the heart out of them.
Two years ago, a sign appeared behind the property’s chain-link fence: “Coming soon! 29 Twenty, Exciting 2 & 3 Bedrooms, Contemporary Design.” A privately-held investment firm based in Miami, Fifteen Group, had acquired the land and stuck a deal with SoCal developer Van Daele Homes to build 33 townhouses (“townhomes” in real estate-speak).
“Soon” was a relative term; nothing happened at the site until March, 2014, when the city affixed notices to three mature shade trees–a Chinese flame and two jacarandas–announcing its intent to remove them for sidewalk widening. That got the attention of neighborhood residents, who countered with their own signs. More than a year later, the trees remain, though still under threat. The city has yet to set a hearing regarding their removal.
Earlier this year, construction finally began: workers graded the parcel, poured concrete slabs, and began work on a concrete retaining wall.
I’ve searched for the source of my annoyance with 29 Twenty: it starts with feeling that despite neighborhood councils and talk of civic engagement, in L.A., new developments happen to us, not because we decide what our neighborhood needs.
Silverlake is a desirable place to live. More families want in and those families need a place to live. I get that.
But why should Silverlake be an enclave for only the well-monied? Floor plans for these units show three-level, attached units from 1,356 to 2,275 square feet, two to three bedrooms, 2.5 or 3.5 bathrooms, and roof top decks. No prices have been listed for the Rowena project, but at Van Daele’s Morton Street development in Echo Park, comparable units start in “the low 800s.”
Both developments feature the glitz du jour: quartz counter tops, stainless-steel appliances, master suites, walk-in closets, multiple bathrooms–though no yards, community gathering spaces, or even green spots.
Los Angeles needs less glitz, more affordable housing, and more ways to build community. The Coffee Table at least gave us the latter; 29 Twenty strikes out on all counts.