You’d think that after forty years of working with the homeless in Los Angeles, many of them veterans, (4000 out of 25,000 unsheltered homeless), a person would get used to the story. Apparently not. When I read Gale Holland’s Los Angeles Times article on the LA City Council’s vote on June 15th to make it easier to clear homeless encampments, I thought to myself: here it is again, moving the herd. All we ever do it seems. Clear ‘em out.
But the outrage rose today with Holland’s follow-up story on the new ordinances “which authorize seizure and in some cases destruction of makeshift shelters and other property of homeless people.”
No place to live, and now no personal belongings? That ratty sleeping bag, the patched tent? The Hoodie that acts as a coat. Still, the authorities are not heartless: there’s a proposed amendment that excludes medication and personal papers from what can be seized. I know the homeless will be relieved to hear that. I certainly am.
Homelessness has increased over 25 percent in LA over the last four years. And it’s not just our city. Ty Barker, Chair of Portland’s Downtown Clean and Safe District, wrote in the Portland Tribune on June 23, that his city is in a similar situation. Portland’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness has run its ten years, and not been as successful as the city hoped. Barker cites his city council’s “a lack of consistent focus” and the tough choices to be made when resources are limited. Sounds familiar.
I recognize that there are public health and safety issues here and a need to protect and keep safe public and private property. Granted. Just like Portland, we know we have a problem. So what are we doing? Councilman Gill Cedillo said it succinctly: "We spend $100 million on homelessness, and 85 percent of our response is law enforcement. That tells us our strategy is not working."
You bet it’s not working. Hard to believe that 85 percent is dedicated to law enforcement while homelessness is increasing. Does that seem skewed to you? Shouldn’t at least half of the funds go toward solutions? More housing?
We could get really crazy and reverse those percentages, so that 85% went toward housing. I don’t mean to get carried away here. It just seems to me that criminalizing the homeless doesn’t make sense. Here’s what we know for sure: it doesn’t get us closer to solving or even ameliorating the homeless problem.
Reading Hollander’s story, I thought of a line from a Neil Diamond lyric:
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev'ryone goes, 'cause everyone knows Brother Love's show…
And ev'ryone goes, 'cause everyone knows
Brother Love's show…
Not much love in LA these days. How’s it going in your town?
If you know a veteran who needs help, here’s our LifeLine for Vets: 888.777.4443