Sat, May

It’s Official: The Proverbial Homelessness Can has been Kicked Down the Road … So Now What?


LA SKID ROW- Folks across the City of Los Angeles are now waiting for instructions on how to properly process all the recent political activity connected to homelessness these past few months. Well wait no longer. I’m pushing your guidance button now. (Adding machine sound effect here.) 


Starting with last year’s Homeless Count, we learned that homelessness had risen 12% between 2013 and 2015. This immediately started a frenzy because, while people had seen moments of homelessness, no one really knew how massive the lack of adequate solutions had become across all of LA County. 

Since then, the downward spiral of hope has plunged to new depths -- well below sea level, to use a toilet bowl metaphor. The overlap of worthless deep-sea diving efforts to find solutions to homelessness have netted neither the necessary aquatic stopgaps nor the therapeutic whirlpool sessions that had once either put the masses into a state of calm or the City’s political efforts into a very fluid place. (Okay, enough of the water references.) 

While numerous media reports have collectively implied that Los Angeles has done enough to turn the tide on homelessness, those of us who know better can tell you that hundreds of pages rhetoric isn’t enough to literally “end anyone’s homelessness.” 

In fact, to demonstrate just how easy it is to “sound smart” without actually doing anything to fix a problem, we share the following hypothetical statement: 

“Today, an important partnership was solidified between the City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles and AAA (also known as Triple A) who have formed a new nationwide collaboration to provide assistance to all homeless folks in what is being called an expansion of AAA’s “roadside assistance” program. 

Now, AAA’s widely popular and successful program adds a medical component and homeless folks can now call and receive homeless “roadside” assistance. Washington, D.C. applauded this effort and pointed to the increased job creation for all the millions of out-of-work medical personnel who can now ride along in tow trucks and at a moments notice hop out and assist the homeless. 

The State of California is pleased with the additional medical training and even law enforcement agencies across the state are happy at the anticipated reduction in emergency calls to their facilities; instead of calling 911, people will now call AAA to help the homeless. 

See how easy it is to say a whole lot and it not mean ANYTHING! 

That’s what the recent comprehensive homeless strategic plans sound like: a lotta words, and no action. 

Add together the City and County’s homeless plans, the 2016 Homeless Count (numbers expected to be released in May), the VA’s Westwood Campus Master Plan (for homeless vets), anticipation of LA’s 2024 Summer Olympic Bid (due September, 2016), LA’s NFL 2020 or 2021 Super Bowl bid and much more. You will see that there are billions of dollars worth of “motivation” to put more words on paper in order to address our out-of-control homelessness. And all this blustering will most likely have a negative effect on the perception of this year’s Homeless Count, as well as how the media reports on it. 

And LA’s overall image is also negatively affected by all the rhetoric. While it sounds as if all is under control, technically, nothing has really happened yet to “end homelessness.” 

The question then becomes how much longer do Angelenos listen to “fluff on paper” before reality sinks in and the real questions begin to be asked. Questions such as, “How much longer before at least ten thousand homeless folks can actually be housed and the homeless numbers permanently reduced by that same number?” 

There are those of us in Skid Row who stopped listening to all the empty rhetoric years ago. Unfortunately, though, we have to wait on everyone else to catch up before the real conversations can begin. In the meantime, all we can do is push people’s “guidance buttons” for them and hope for the best.


(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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