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Two Reports, More Shouting and Three Truths

AT LENGTH-Nothing gets done these days unless you have a study or a report.

But if studies or reports and investigations alone could solve the homeless crisis, then this crisis would have been cured long ago. The only thing we gain from these studies is an understanding of the complexity of homelessness while the problem grows. 

Every year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority conducts a homeless count for the entire county over three nights with the help of thousands of volunteers. This past January, the homeless services authority counted 52,765 homeless people. The Economic Roundtable criticized the methodology of that count after months of analysis came up with a “statistical approach” that yielded a number nearly twice as large — 102,278. This interesting statistical approach, for all intents, could actually be more accurate, but it still doesn’t do the one thing that even the LASHA report hasn’t done — actually house anyone. 

The second report comes from the UC Berkeley Law School and the Policy Advocacy Clinic that documents the rise of Business Improvement Districts and then comes to conclusion that these 200 BIDs in California “are a concerted and growing effort to erase from cities any sign of the vast inequality while at the same time perpetuating it,” Executive Director Paul Boden said. 

Both studies are important to those who are actually studying the how and the why the fifth largest economy in the world, with one of the highest standards of living and the most millionaires can also have the largest homeless population in the nation. You don’t have to have a doctorate in economics to see that the income disparity and its threat to working class families is a part of the larger cause of this crisis. 

The existential fear of the middle class expressed in protests and social media shouting is what is stopping politicians from moving more swiftly to the obvious solutions. Just the other day as the Bridge Home proposal was being brought forth in the 15th Council District, more than 100 protesters organized by Saving San Pedro, an anti-homeless group came out to Gaffey Street with signs and bull horns.  Most of these protesters are afraid of drug addicts, sex offenders and psycho’s invading their neighborhoods — as if that makes up the totality of the homeless population. 

The chanting lasted for some two hours on our most congested street — a street Mayor Eric Garcetti’s listed as part of his “Great Street” initiative. Gaffey is lined with mostly fast food joints, struggling retail establishments and two big box drug stores Rite Aid and CVS. There’s not much that makes this street great except for the 63,000 car trips that it handles everyday leading to the mouth of the 110 Freeway. The City of Los Angeles has spent a small fortune beautifying the first five blocks south of the freeway but spent the past five years chasing the homeless from one encampment to another. All of this to give the “appearance of prosperity” without actually doing much but give lip service to the fact that there is a small fraction of our population living in dire poverty. 

The curious thing is that the Saving San Pedro contingent has now turned against Councilman Joe Buscaino since he adopted the mayor’s Bridge Home plan.  Some at the demonstration even held up a sign that I inspired “Joe Must Go!” from the last city council race. I heard one woman chant on the bullhorn, “divided we stand.” A truer statement could not have been yelled more inaccurately. For on the following Monday night a counter vigil took place with a similar number of people who support housing the homeless. Buscaino didn’t show up, but three of his aides did, making this the first visible sign the tide is turning at the council office. 

Homelessness affects us all and if we leave this problem unsolved it will have far reaching ramifications in parts of our communities that we haven’t even yet imagined.  And, our inability to solve this most basic human condition in a sane and humane way says more about our city and our civilization than all the hi-rise buildings and football stadiums being built. 

There are, at the core of this problem, three basic truths: 

  1. Shelter, in whatever form it comes, cures the condition but not the cause of homelessness. 
  1. The police cannot arrest their way out of this problem by chasing and incarcerating the homeless for warrants and petty misdemeanors. There aren’t enough police and not enough jails. 
  1. Violating other people’s rights to obtain our own security or property does not make any of us more secure. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the California Constitution supports the 193 or more “vagrancy” ordinances in this state that target the homeless. 

My mother used to have a sign on her refrigerator that read, “The law in all its magnificence has made it illegal for both the rich and poor to sleep under bridges.” 

This statement is still apt for how divided we stand while nothing gets done.

 

(James Preston Allen is the founding publisher and executive editor of RLnews, where this first appeared. He has been involved in community affairs for more than 40 years in the Los Angeles Harbor Area. His column appears in CityWatch twice monthly.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.