The homeless crisis in LA is grotesque, unfair and it underscores lack of political imagination

No hyperbole here, but Los Angeles is teetering on the brink.  The quality of life in this city is not sustainable when in every other block in Los Angeles we find homeless people living in tents.  The lack of progress is so pronounced that many Angelinos are so disgusted and frustrated.  The blight and misery in the streets of Los Angeles are of biblical proportions.  At this point,  they might be worse than one might see in Tijuana when crossing the border or even worse than the ones in the barrios of Honduras.

Los Angeles Times devoted an entire week of editorial pieces to unload its harsh criticism of this problem.  The paper actually called it “a national disgrace.” You know our city has hit rock-bottom when it is in on the United Nations radar for failing to help those living in extreme poverty.  In December last year,  a United Nations Special official who focuses on extreme poverty descended on the streets of Skid Row. The official walked through the place filled with misery and despair.  It was part of an endeavor of a-fact-finding tour on poverty.   The ultimate irony here, California the richest state in the wealthiest nation on the planet is unable to deal with extreme poverty.

This homeless crisis has spun out of control in Los Angeles.  That call for urgency has been made but the actions taken are evidently not substantive enough.  Progress has either been too slow or ridiculously incremental.  Moreover, this crisis has not only revealed a profound lack of imagination and political courage among our civic leaders. But it has also, it can be argued, demonstrated a crisis of competence and credibility.

A couple of months ago, it was reported that, at any night, there were 1,800 homeless people at Skid Row with nine working toilets. This is so outrageous! It shouldn’t be that hard for our city’s leaders to provide more toilets to poor homeless people.  It is also a potential public sanitation problem. Providing more working toilets for these unfortunate people should be the sort of short-term solutions that our civic leaders should be able to do with no sweat.

The conversation as to how deal with the homeless problem usually centers on moral grounds or civic responsibility.  The former focuses on helping them in finding housing and do whatever is possible to help them to reincorporate back into their communities. The latter see homeless people as public nuisance and city’s leaders marshal public safety resources to remove them from the streets.  This is a disgrace and should be rejected. Jailing homeless people is not only inhumane but it also takes away resources that could be utilized more productively for some sort of housing and services that could include mental health.  It has been widely reported that out of the $100 million spent last year helping homeless people, shamefully $87 million went to law enforcement.

Experts have categorized the homeless population into three categories: The derail, the disabled,  and the dysfunctional.   Those under the derail categories:  People who were economically struggling and were living paycheck to paycheck. They either became sick or lost their jobs.   The disabled:  People with mental problems and physical challenges that need help surviving.  These individuals might need help even by just taking daily medication. And then we have the dysfunctional, these are very difficult to help.  They are chronic drug users and might reject stable housing as they have become comfortable with the “chaos in the streets.”

Here is some statistic information about this crisis: Currently, there are 34,000 homeless in Los Angeles and 58,000 in the entire county.  And, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, “more than 5,000 of LA county’s 58,000 homeless people are children and more than 4,000 are elderly.  About one-third of these individuals have major problems with mental illness. Some 40% of them are African-American. Also heavily represented: Veterans. The disabled. Young people from the county’s overwhelmed juvenile justice system and its foster care programs. Men and women just released from jail, without the tools or skills needed for reentering society. Patients released from public hospitals.”

Dr. King told us, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” If we internalize that then we will realize that we are connected together and that one’s misery in our community will threaten our liberty, undermine our democracy and will disrupt the marketplace.  Los Angeles is a progressive community and most people living in LA don’t want to feel that they are turning their back on their fellow man’s misery. “The mad, the afflicted” and those who are sleeping in the streets because they are unable to pay for their rent must be helped.

There are some of us who believe that homeless people deserve compassion and must be helped.  And there those who want safe, clean and free streets.  It is not easy for many cities facing this problem trying to strike a delicate balance between the needs and rights of homeless people and the needs and rights of everyone else leaving in these cities.  In the end, it boils down to the quality of life in communities, which it is unattainable when homeless people are living in tents in the streets.

How did it get this bad?  In the last decades, homeless people were being viewed as an inconvenience and as an eyesore to the new urbanization taking place in Los Angeles.  Developers used their power in city hall and demanded these homeless people be removed from places where very expensive lofts and condominiums had been built.  Public safety resources were spent in attacking the poor and homeless people. It is fair to say that our civic leaders viewed this homeless problem as a problem of visibility and not an intractable social problem needed to be solved.

Of course, this homeless problem is a community problem.  Therefore, it will require a community response.  That means that everyone in Los Angeles has to play a role in finding solutions to this problem.  Having said this, citizens in Los Angeles want to see more visionary and bold leadership when dealing with this problem.  A mayor actively campaigning for president and city councilmembers caving into the forces of NIMBYs is not helpful.

Voters in the city are not oblivious to the problem.   They have seen the misery and want to help out.  They have agreed to two measures, Proposition HHH which authorized  “$1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units of housing for homeless and low-income people.” And Measure H that raised the sales tax within the city.  Money raised from this measure will be utilized to provide services to the thousands of homeless people in the city.

The time for timidity and political expediency is over.  We need our civic leaders to step up and grow some backbones. Having each council member to pledge to build 222 units for the next two years is a step in the right direction.  In light of the profundity of such crisis, our civic leaders need to do more. We have also heard from councilmembers who passionately tell us that they are willing to do whatever it takes to end homeless in this city.  And yet it was recently reported that these very same councilmembers are actively rejecting projects that would alleviate homelessness in their own districts.  They refuse to provide a letter of approval needed for such project to move forward.

This is another situation in which a silent majority shouldn’t allow a loud minority of selfish homeowners, and spineless politicians to dictate where to build housing for these homeless people.  Let’s stand up to these people so we can see progress in this crisis.  Yes, let’s tackle this homeless crisis with vigor, boldness, and compassion.  This great city deserves no less.

Thank you for reading.

Chamba Sanchez

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Sources consulted.
Chiland, Elijah. “LA sanitation needs $17M to keep up with homeless encampments.”  Curbed Los Angeles 22 Feb. 2018. Web. 27 March 2018.

Do, Anh. Carcamo, Cindy. “Orange County supervisors scrap emergency homeless plan after cities push back.” Los Angeles Times 27 March 2018. Web. 28 March 2018.

Jeff, General.  “United Nations Investigation Visits LA’s Skid Row … the World Needs to Know! CityWatch 14 Dec. 2018.  Web. 28 March 2018.

“L.A. has a long history of failure on homelessness. It needs leaders who will take responsibility.”  Editorial.  Los Angeles Times 2 March 2018.  Web. 27 March 2018.

Medina, Jennifer. “Los Angeles Puts $100 Million Into Helping Homeless.” New York Times 22 Sept. 2015.  Web. 27 March 2018.

“The gentrification of Skid Row – a story that will decide the future of Los Angeles.” Guardian 5 March 2015. Web. 27 March 2018. 

 

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Pictures Credit.  I personally took one and the other pic was obtained from Bigstock.

19 Comments

  1. Andrea Perez March 30, 2018 at 4:17 am

    The city of Los Angeles is great but our homeless epidemic is not. There are thousands of homeless people living around us. We as a community need to do something effective for our people. We definitely need to come together and help our brothers and sisters. Whether it’s something small such as volunteering to help them or voting yes on propositions that will benefit them, we need to take action. Once our civics leaders notice the community’s actions towards helping the homeless, they will follow suit and create impactful actions. Helping the homeless will not only help them but also the entire community. It is a win-win situation.

    Reply
  2. Kassandra Sanchez March 30, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    This blog was reminiscent of theatrical project homelessness. During the performance of the said project, a quote from one of the articles still remains fresh in my mind. In an article from LA Times, author Gale Holland interviewed specialists involved with the mentally ill homeless and she said, “The system has failed them, and then we blame it on them.” This quote came back while reading this blog because it is true. We are wrong in blaming the homeless for being homeless; it is our government and leaders who have failed them. It is the system they are trying so hard to create that makes it impossible for them to live in the city of angels. A majority of the homeless people in Los Angeles and in the entire country are those who have a “physical or mental disability, or both.” However, the reason behind they’re homelessness is due to the fact that they don’t qualify for federal disability payments. Nevertheless, these federal payments still don’t help cover rent, utilities, and other needs since they are only “about $800 a month.” I believe Los Angeles had the money and a strong community to help the crisis of homelessness. However, we can’t just send the homeless to jail or keep them all in one street. It is important for our leaders to create a system that will truly help these citizens in need. Our community is ready; now we need our leaders to be.

    Holland, Gale. “Mental illness and homelessness are connected. But not how you might think.” Los Angeles Times 7 Aug. 2017

    Reply
  3. Liz Reyes March 30, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Los Angeles is a great city, however, it would be even greater if they would address the homeless problem that Los Angeles is facing. I remember that for December of last year, I saw this one homeless guy who was sleeping in the hard concrete floor with just one blanket. He was freezing since the weather was ice cold, so I went to get him a blanket. You go visit Downtown L.A. , there is this one area in specifically that the sidewalks of both sides are covered in tents with homeless people. You see many African American men and women, also sadly you see children . Sometimes when you are exiting the freeway you see veterans in wheelchairs, or just veteran( men who serve the country) begging for money to eat. What is being done to make the situation better? The leaders in power should be trying to find ways to make this situation better. I agree with the article when it says,”Having said this, citizens in Los Angeles want to see more visionary and bold leadership when dealing with this problem”(par. 11) . However, also it requires participation of the people who make up the community as well. Homelessness can be solve if everyone puts in a helping hand, if everyone can show a an act of compassion. Remembering that homeless are people like us. Citizen also need to do their part.

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  4. Jared Williams March 30, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    As someone coming form another state I was shocked by how many people here were living on the streets.
    Shocked isn’t the right word heartbroken is more accurate. I think that some of the citizens and clearly the councilmembers have just accepted that this is how it is in Los Angeles. As you said LA County is one of the richest and highest taxed in the country and they still haven’t figured it out. I also agree what you said about 222 that it’s not enough. We need some sort of emergency help now. As someone who has experienced homelessness for a short time I know how close we all are to being on the street. I do see 222 as a good start and the idea of creating those units in every district but it’s still not enough. Most of us are closer to being homeless than we are to having a million dollar house what we help build for others today may be what saves us tomorrow.

    On a side note. It really bothers me when folks refer to people in the midst of homelessness as “homeless people”. It implies an identity or an immutable characteristic. It can change!

    Reply
  5. Baltazar Hernandez March 30, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    Homelessness is a growing problem in the city of Los Angeles. Our council members do not seem to care one bit and I have witnessed this personally. After visiting one of the city council meetings in city hall it became so clear that we have the wrong people representing us. Three people went up to express their concerns to the council but not one of them seemed to pay attention. Two of the three people brought up the issue about homelessness and the council members were either on their phone or having side conversations while these people demanded action. It is so disappointing to see that the majority of the money is used for the law enforcement to remove these people from the streets as opposed to invest in housing units. Our veterans, disabled and children deserve to be helped and provided with skills they need to reintegrate into society to become working citizens that can live fulfilling lives. If our representatives will not take action it is up to us as a collective to ensure action is taken and this crisis gets solved.

    Reply
  6. Ester March 31, 2018 at 2:30 am

    As a person who has been living in Los Angeles, I have seen lots of changes in building more building’s, the quality of life is becoming an issue to sustain due to the fact that the homeless rate has increased and rent has become very expensive. The situation is getting worse and it is only causing harm to us as a Nation. The reason why is because ironically we indeed are a rich state, yet the state can not deal with these issues deliberately. There is the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that every human being should be accountable for. Public sanitation should be the first thing this state should establish near the homeless so it doesn’t cause double trouble with having unsanitary streets.

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  7. Brenda Blanco March 31, 2018 at 4:46 am

    I find myself being able to say there has been a big change as time has passed up to today. I have noticed more schools being built, more buildings being taken down, etc. But one of the things I’ve noticed the most change in, is the amount of homeless people that I see on the streets. It is very heartbreaking seeing them on the streets, knowing they might have to spend the night sleeping on the sidewalk. It’s sad to know that as time passes the amount of people living on the streets is just increasing.

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  8. Nestor March 31, 2018 at 5:48 am

    Homelessness has been an epidemic in Los Angeles my entire life recently it’s been getting much worse, the city of los Angeles simply doesn’t care. The Federal government doesn’t care we’ve have spent billions a month on the Iraq war alone in class I was asked would I take 10% of my check to end los Angeles homelessness I said yes. you would only need to take 1% of all our checks. the federal government needs to handle this issue with a new way of thinking but lead by people protest in the streets and making congress act.

    solution: we need an entire new form of homeless shelter one where each homeless person has their own tiny living space with a bed and place to have their belongings there could be dorm type bathrooms and cafeteria type kitchens. Each space would be like a Japanese capsule hotel tiny living space. the homeless would then be helped find work and rehab as well we would need govt nurses a total social program and department. with only 1% from our pocket. small tax increase. the government wouldn’t make homelessness illegal but would mandate to put them in these government shelters.

    conclusion:
    this would take the people to call for reform march in the streets vote congressmen out make this an issue on the election year and make a point of telling our leaders that this is a human rights issue and a sanitation, health issue as well.
    our government spends too much on war a little on domestic issues would help us all.

    Reply
  9. Melisa Ibarra March 31, 2018 at 5:54 am

    Los Angeles can be a very beautiful place but then you have other places that people are struggling to even have a roof over their head. Nobody should ever have to live paycheck to paycheck. We all deserve to be able to live in an affordable place. It truly is sad to see that there are too many people who live in the cold streets, especially seeing children or elderly. I was very moved by when i first hand got to see the proposition 222, it was amazing to see that they are finally trying to start somewhere to get more homes for these people who need it the most. It is very unfortunate for those who take the littlest things such as a clean restroom to use when there are others who have to wait almost an hour to use a public restroom that they have to share with so many other homeless. That is why instead of throwing away clothes that I either out grow or get tired of I always go donate it because just because i might not want it doesn’t mean it can not help someone else. I real encourage others to do the same, I am always telling my parents, siblings, friends. I know it might not seem like a a lot but I do believe it is a start for those who truly need it.

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  10. Dulce March 31, 2018 at 6:26 am

    For years we have seen the increase of homelessness right before our eyes. Now we see that it
    is ridiculously too much homelessness in the street. Sadly we lack of leadership in our council members.
    We lack honest and humble leaders that really care. Years after years these leaders that we have now;
    have been elected and sadly our ignorance is to blame for. I blame our ignorance because we don’t care
    to educate ourselves about the leaders we are choosing. I do believe that these leaders abuse the fact
    that that many of us Los Angeles people work day to day to be able to make enough money to pay our
    bills and that is one of the reasons were not able to educate ourselves due to the lack of time. Seeing
    the number of how many homeless people we have and they are three categories of types of homeless
    is sad. These leaders do not care about homeless because they do not see the poverty in their gated
    neighborhoods. I was able to witness how the council members hear us the people and they absolutely
    have no care in the world for us. While a person would go up and speak many were just on their phones,
    socializing and walking around. Not one payed full attention. The moment that one would speak they
    would just tell the person that their minute was up. How sad is it that they only give ONE minute. These
    people do not care about homeless people and they do not care about us. I can not express that
    enough. There must to be something we can do. Since our leaders choose not to help us , we need to
    help each other. We need to speak up until they hear us. We need to vote ! we need to help those who
    are vulnerable because they are someones kid, mom, dad, sister or brother. That could be us one day.

    Reply
  11. Stephen March 31, 2018 at 6:31 am

    To have low-income housing you have to work or have some kind income. Most of the homeless population does not work and is not capable of obtaining a job. Our focus is the homeless living on the street so the proposition will only be a short-term success, or it will only help a certain percent of individuals who are homeless, like the ones who live in shelters but not the ones who are living on the street. We should create supportive housing, transitional housing, and mental institutions. Let’s give the mentally ill the proper help they need by creating those kinds of housing programs, so they can learn life skills, have support and to also empower them, so they can have a long-term success in housing stability.

    Reply
  12. Brittney Rivera March 31, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Los Angeles has become so urbanized and have only concerned themselves on attracting people from all over. The fact that Skid Row has 1,800 homeless people and only 9 working toilets is appalling. How can Los Angeles be so preoccupied on skyscrapers, stadiums, and entertainment when there are lives struggling to survive one more day. I work in DTLA and everyday I encounter a homeless person and many times they just want a cup of water or a bite to eat. How can we deny anyone a drink or food? Many of these people mind there business, of course we do encounter the dysfunctional but it’s always good to lend a helping hand. The statistics in this blog and numbers shown have proved that Los Angeles needs to do a lot of work. This was eye opening!

    Reply
  13. Michael Mahon March 31, 2018 at 6:49 am

    I think that the problem with homelessness goes much deeper than most people think. There is no easy solution to it and people on each side of the argument have valid points. Homelessness will not be solved just by pouring money into building units of housing for homeless and low-income people or by creating numerous city ordinances that essentially make it illegal to live on the streets and allow police officers to arrest homeless people for minor offenses. If the city is serious about coming up with a sustainable way to improve the homeless problem in Los Angeles than we need to start developing ways to give people, the tools to get out of homelessness and allow others to avoid the cycle of poverty all together. Providing housing to homeless people is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t give them the tools to escape the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Instead it just delays being back on the streets for a little while or traps them in a life of poverty. The city needs to understand that many of these people are on the streets because they got caught in the cycle of living check to check. High costs of living and low wages are a problem and these issues need to be addressed first and foremost. This is only a drop in the bucket, but it will help begin the process to finding a way to decrease the alarming number of people living on the streets. It’s a well-known fact that education is a way out of poverty, so we also need to find ways to allow all people to have a realistic chance to earn a college degree. As a society we also need to learn how to deal with mental health issues. Unfortunately, many people on the streets are afflicted by mental health issues and this is one of the reasons why they are homeless. Until we learn how to help people with mental illnesses deal with them long term and accept the issues as a society we will have to deal with the repercussions. There is no quick fix to the homeless problem here and no one way to fix it, but we can start the process of coming up with solutions.

    Reply
    1. Chamba April 1, 2018 at 11:16 pm

      Yes, it is a disgrace how we treat people with mental ill challenges. It has been reported that the largest mental institution in the U.S. is actually a wing of Twin Towers, an L.A. County jail.

      Reply
  14. Jeff March 31, 2018 at 7:00 am

    Upon reading the following passage I agree that there must be a substantial solution to handling the homeless problem. Like Sanchez exclaimed “Experts have categorized the homeless population into three categories: The derail, the disabled, and the dysfunctional.” by knowing this fact we can find a solution better suited for the city.

    Reply
  15. DENIS VASILENKO April 5, 2018 at 10:32 am

    Homelessness is one of the greatest problems that we facing nowadays. There are other problems as well but homelessness is a disease. When we are talking about 58,000 homeless people living on the streets and then we talk about toilets, the statistics is so horrible that I have no words to explain it. In order to prevent it we have to improve our rehabilitation programs which will help to adapt for people who were just got out of jail. Once we fix this issue we will have less people living on the streets, because in many cases people who just got out of jail need a stable job, but no one wants to hire them. I can understand them but if we want to fix homelessness we need to give them a second chance. During the last 5 years homeless problem is not decreasing, in opposition to that we see and increasing number of people living on the streets. My own research for this problem showing that even if we give to the homeless person a stable job and a housing around 50% chance that he ends up on the streets. Why? Because when we take a person out of his comfort zone he still wants to go back to the “chaos on the streets”.

    Reply
  16. yarmil Abrego April 27, 2018 at 4:51 am

    I am one of the many voters that voted for propositions that would help the homeless people, I completely agree that our council members need to get working on homes for the homeless, and that the majority of people should talk loud and clear that a community is better of if everyone is doing well, and not letting the minority in the community deciding the future of homeless people. I will definitely support the innovating idea of 222 units for the next two year. I will be writing a letter to my council member to let my voice be heard, and collaborate for the change of the well being homeless. It is upsetting how our civic leader have been too slow to make change in the lives of homeless. I for one believe that the more questions we ask about where to build housing for homeless people will only lead to a no action plan. If the money is there then action needs to take place for housing for the homeless. The crisis of homelessness will not go away if there is no real change.

    Reply
  17. lyft driver May 16, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    “The quality of life in this city is not sustainable” for who?? How many homeless do you know? How many homeless have you spent time with? Most of them are HAPPY not not have a mortgage, insurance, an a-hole landlord and be feeding into a system that potentially put them there in the first place among other reasons. Yes, in a lot of cases it’s a subconscious choice, but it’s also a conscious well informed one for others. Do we really need to live a “normal” life?

    There’s a lot of statistics and platitudes here and no real call to action other than a someone else should clean MY city attitude. Why don’t you go down to skid row and give one a hug yourself and put that in your bio?

    Reply
  18. jeffrey d de haro May 29, 2018 at 1:15 am

    Chamba Sanchez generates valid and humane points on the false war on homeless people living on the streets of Los Angeles. While today Los Angeles has a surplus of over 57,000 homeless women, children, elderly, and men. During our classroom discussions Professor Chamba brings his personal experiences on shedding light on those who oppose homeless people entering their own neighborhoods; with comments on how “If we let these homeless people into our communities, it’ll drive down the market value of my home” which is counter productive to how and when we should solve our homelessness situation. With 100 million dollars in tax revenue being allocated from our paychecks and personal pockets, and 87 million was put into our police civil system is an outrage. Whereas a fraction of said 100 million dollars could be used in social works that’ll enable and support those in need of civil assistance.

    Reply

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