Fri, Apr

What If Mayor Karen Bass Cannot Hide the Homeless?


THE VIEW FROM HERE - Karen Bass will not be able to solve the homeless crisis, but she might be able to do the next best thing – hide the homeless.  Property owners really do not care whether the suffering is gone as long as they have no daily reminders. 

Hollywood’s History of Out of Sight Out of Mind 

Previously, Hollywoodians were all up in arms over an imminent disaster.  On March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam in Santa Clarita Valley burst just 12 hours after William Mulholland, chief engineer of the Bureau of Water and Supply, later made infamous in Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, had declared it safe.  A year’s worth of Los Angeles water flooded through the Valley killing 400 people before making its way to the ocean near Ventura. 2022, Water and Power Associates, Mulholland Dam and Hollywood Reservoir

Hollywoodians looked up from Hollywood & Vine and saw a twin of the St. Francis Dam looming over them.  Not only were the St. Francis and the Hollywood dams of similar design, but the one in Hollywood was named The Mulholland Dam.  When Mulholland declared his name sake safe, people were not reassured. As long as people could look up towards the Cahuenga Pass, they fixated on being swept away into the ocean near San Pedro in the middle of some stormy night.   

6)  Did they remove the dam? No. Do you see it? No. Did Houdini hide the dam like he hid an elephant on January 7, 1918 at New York's Hippodrome Theater? No! The dam is still there, but no one complains because no one can see it. After years of screaming, teeth gnashing, newspaper editorials, and all of sorts of political speeches, the city simply piled a bunch of dirt in front of the dam and planted huge pine trees. 

The dam is just a few blocks north of the planned 100,000 story Hollywood Millennium Project to be constructed astride the Hollywood Fault Line. One wonders what effect, if any, a rupture in the Hollywood Fault would have on the dam hidden behind those pine trees. Out of Sight, Out of Mind can be a temporary fix to a political problem. Hiding the Mulholland Dam has worked for 100 years. 

Has Mayor Bass Done Anything More Than Temporarily Hide a Few Homeless? 

Mayor Bass said that she would house 17,000 homeless within a year. Feb 23, 2023, Politico, Karen Bass’ Mission: Get 17,000 People off the Streets of Los Angeles in a Year, by Alexander Nieves.  At last count, she had placed a little more than 400 homeless in temporary housing. Let’s assume that by now, 500 homeless are newly off the streets. March 8, 2023, Mayor Bass: Bureaucracy Leaves Many Angelenos on the Streets, by Michell Eloy. 

Mayor Bass made her Emergency Declaration on December 12, 2022.  If she has hidden 500 homeless in temporary homes in three months, that’s 167 people housed per month.  At this rate, it will take Mayor Bass over 8 years to get 17,000 homeless off the streets (17,000 ÷ 167 = 101 months = 8.48 yrs)  That means to house all 41,000 homeless will take 245 months, which is more than 20 years.  Obviously, Mayor Bass has to greatly accelerate the rate at which she hides the homeless.  Right now, Mayor Bass is on track to hide only 2,004 homeless by year’s end. 

Will Hiding 2,000 Homeless Due the Trick? 

Unlike Houdini who had to hide the entire elephant on stage (no trick photography with a life stage show), Mayor Bass may need to conceal only a small fraction of her goal.  “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” means that as long as no one can see the problem, there is no need to solve it. No one sees the Mulholland dam looming over Hollywood and Vine; thus, no one cares. 

Suppose Mayor Bass concentrates only on the most visible homeless such as those under freeway overpasses and in parks. Those encampments are highly visible as compared to those hidden in the brush along the freeways.  While people make a fuss over Skid Row, in reality voters do not care about drunks and vagrants on Skid Row.  That’s why most cities have a Skid Row.  Mayor Bass needs to only worry about hiding the highly visible homeless.  She’s lucky that former Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell evicted the homeless from Echo Park.  If Echo Park reverts to a visible, crime infested Camp Feces, that will pose a political predicament. 

Shelters Are a Non-Solution Born of Paternalism 

Because the Homeless are treated as things to be disposed of as cheaply as possible, shelters sound good to those who do not have to live in them.  Shelters ,Tiny Homes and RoomKey have drawbacks. March 13, 2023, KCRW, Bass’s Signature Homelessness Program Faces Big Growing Pains, Hosted by Steve Chiotakis.    

1)  No Pets Allowed: The pet prohibition is deal-breaker for homeless who have pets, who maybe their closest friends. Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua introduced Assembly Bill 258 to require homeless shelters which receive state funds to accept pets. 

2)  Likelihood of Physical Attacks: A person is more likely to be assaulted in a shelter than on the street. 

3)  Most Shelter Can’t Accommodate The Disabled 

4)  Strict Drug & Alcohol Free Rules: If the parent uses drugs, then her children are also excluded. 

5)  Curfews: Curfews can be as early as 7:30 p.m. Others require the homeless to leave during the day. 

6)  Mental Health Problems: Many mentally ill people have disruptive personality disorders making life difficult for those around them.

7)  Deficient Storage: When they go into a shelter, there is no room for their belongings. Even when the city says it will safeguard their stuff, the experience is that once they enter a shelter, their possessions disappear. 

8)  No Control over Their Lives: Other people make rules, but not necessarily to accommodate the needs of the homeless, but rather to satisfy those who run the shelter or their insurance companies. 

Because of the city’s wanton destruction of tens of thousands of RSO units over the last 20 years, the percentage of the visible homeless with mental illness, a criminal record, or a serious drug - alcohol problem has significantly grown.  Once evicted, they become persona non grata to landlords. Landlords have an express duty to other tenants to provide a safe environment. By renting to a disruptive, mentally ill criminal, the landlord breaches his duty to the other tenants, making the landlord financially liable. 

And, When the Rains Stop? 

Right now, Mayor Bass’s biggest ally is the horrible weather during which the homeless will stay sheltered.  When these cold rains end, a lot of homeless will leave the shelters and other temporary abodes.  Life in an encampment where people can come as go as they desire, have a dog, and have some say in how their community operates may be more desirable than being cooped up in a single room with a curfew and subject to being thrown out if one drinks too much. 

When the good weather smiles upon us, Mayor Bass may find people leaving the shelters and more homeless remaining on the streets.  Maybe, Hugo Soto-Martinez will get Echo Park Lake’s fence removed in time to welcome back the homeless.


 (Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor.  You may email him at [email protected].  The opinions expressed by Mr. Abrams are not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)