CERDAFIED-LA Councilman Tom LaBonge introduced a motion in recently that sparked a demonstration this past weekend on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell seconded the motioned but was quick to try and separate himself from his action by stating that, “the council is not looking to ban pop-up food distribution programs for the homeless. And there was never talk of a ban, at least not from my perspective.”
According to a Department of Housing and Urban Development report, the county's homeless population increased by 15% between 2011 and 2013, reaching a new high of 57,737. Los Angeles City Hall has preferred blinders versus action for decades. However, in the 70’s, shelters and supporting services were established on skid row by the City. That did little to resolve the problem.
Now that downtown is being revamped, the homeless population is getting the evil eye from City Hall who is under pressure from business owners and community members to find a solution. Apparently the idea that people are like stray animals has caught on. Based on that logic, they conclude that if you don’t feed them they will go away. Further, that any such act of kindness towards them, will only lock them into a cycle of dependence and it allows them to maintain their addictions.
Others have suggested that every city in Los Angeles County should provide for the homeless with shelters in order to eliminate the concentration in one area. Non profits would not be over taxed and whatever criminal activity generated by the homeless would migrate and be a shared burden on police services and communities.
I believe that the timing of this motion is critical to the discussion. First, because the economy is so precarious many families are on the brink of homelessness. Cuts in both food stamps and unemployment benefits are likely to add fuel to the fire. Second because over 50 cities in the nation have taken action against the homeless not for them.
City government after city government has failed to resolve the homeless issue. There is neither will nor solution. So if LaBonge makes a motion that "would address non-commercial meal distribution in the public rights-of-way", it is no wonder that those in the trenches, serving the homeless, would grab a sign and try to circumvent the same kind of cold hearted policies being put in place here in Los Angeles.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell released a statement explaining, “We need to come up with a common sense solution that will make it easier for pop-up food distribution programs to operate indoors instead of out. We need to provide the appropriate restroom facilities and support services needed to give the homeless the dignity and respect they deserve. We must help the homeless while maintaining some order in the surrounding neighborhoods. And we need to bring advocates, service providers, and stakeholders to the table to identify funding to make these pop-up food distribution events work for the entire community.”
All of this can be achieved with one small solution. A city wide agreement amongst fast food restaurants to accept donations from their customers toward prepaid meal vouchers. You now have funds, indoor eating, restrooms, and dignity. The customers have a clear conscious that their donation will only provide food not go towards drugs or alcohol. It is simple, it does not require ordinances or bans, or cost the city anything. All you need is the heart and leadership skills.
O’Farrell made a motion to find affordable housing citywide, which will be no easy task to find cheap housing for more than a small city of homeless people. Around the nation, cities like Portland are making homelessness a crime. A country with the highest incarceration rate in the entire world wants to fill the private for-profit prisons. So why not start with the homeless?
Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hales announced a crack down on “camping” on public property. Police have begun enforcing it and making arrests. On Aug. 13, in South Carolina, the Columbia City Council approved a plan that makes homelessness illegal in parts of the city. The proposal forced the homeless to be sent to a shelter on the outskirts of town or be placed in jail. Those who went to the shelter may only return to the city under police escort and the police monitor the road leading back to the city.
Of course the residents are happy, the business owners are happy and the politicians are thrilled. Out of sight, out of mind. Now it’s much easier to pick off one homeless family at a time as they fall on hard times. But is this the American way? Homelessness was an issue since we landed on Plymouth Rock.
I once read about a hotel in Japan that offered little more than a coffin size sleeping portal for weary travelers. Businessmen took advantage of this cheap arrangement. It made sense that this was an affordable solution for the homeless population too. For big problems, think small for solutions.
Monday Night Mission offered, “Thanks to everyone that came out and made an effort to change the hearts and minds of Los Angeles. The energy was great and everyone stayed true to our message while being respectful. Let's keep this spirit alive as we work together to tackle the hunger and poverty crises in our city with our community groups, family, friends and neighbors.”
They and many others will continue to protest to make sure that Los Angeles leads the way for humane solutions, not abandonment and abuse, for those who need protection the most.
(Lisa Cerda is a contributor to CityWatch, a community activist, VP of Community Rights Foundation of LA.)
Vol 11 Issue 101
Pub: Dec 17, 2013