By Jeff Hall
There is a populist uprising taking place in response to how the city has been handling the homelessness crisis.
People are tired of the encampments and the dangers they present. The idea of spending over $500,000 to house one homeless individual seems crazy. Placing shelters in our beach parking lots and public parks isn’t right – beaches and parks are for everyone’s enjoyment.
It is said we have 66,000 homeless individuals in LA County. So even if our officials successfully clear 200 tents from the Venice Beach boardwalk and put them into temporary shelter at a cost of millions, that means 65,800 remain unhoused. Pushing homeless people from one part of town to another doesn’t solve anything. That’s Whack-a-Mole.
Tiny solutions here and there won’t solve a problem of this magnitude. In an attempt to get my head around how big a problem this really is, I did some Googling in order to find the names of cities in America with a population of approximately 66,000 – the same as our homeless population.
Palo Alto, California is this size. I’m very familiar with Palo Alto. I lived many years there. Palo Alto is a BIG suburb with LOTS of people. It can easily take 20 minutes or even longer to drive from one side of town to the other.
But Palo Alto is very suburban, quite spread out. Palo Alto is 23 square miles – the same physical size as Pasadena. Pasadena is more dense and has a population of 141,000.
Venice Beach is only 3.1 square miles and packs in a population of 40,000. Santa Monica, which houses a population of 91,000 in 8.4 square miles. LA County’s homeless population represents 72% of the population of Santa Monica.
So if we said we needed 72% of Santa Monica’s land mass to house all of LA County’s homeless population, that means we need approximately 6 square miles total to provide decent shelter (tent villages, tiny homes) for all of LA County’s homeless population.
That’s a lot of land – about the same size as all of Griffith Park. Let that sink in a bit as you read from here.
Projects that result in housing 12 here and 20 there and maybe even 100 or 200 at a time simply aren’t big enough. Right now the effort to remove 200 tents from the boardwalk in Venice Beach is receiving lots of self-congratulatory attention. The effort has taken months and will cost millions.
But if we can only find housing for 200 homeless individuals a month, then it will take 330 months, or 27 years, to fully solve the problem of sheltering all of LA County’s 66,000.
True, many will die as they wait for housing. But more homeless individuals keep arriving. The point is, we’re nowhere close to keeping up, let alone getting ahead of this issue.
It is said the city and county have all kinds of land parcels here and there. But if shelters and services are too spread out, it will be hard to provide needed services at scale.
I don’t see how we solve this problem without a FEMA-like (or even Syrian refugee camp-like) response – at least to start. Let’s get the homeless people all sheltered, fed and clothed and then figure out where to go from there.
There is, of course, the civil liberties argument to contend with. Some think it’s not nice, not right – or illegal, even – to force people into shelter. If these individuals want to live on the streets, this argument goes, we should let them.
But our whole housing-for-the-homeless strategy is based on providing housing. What if we build the needed shelter and the homeless still refuse to take it? We know already many of them won’t.
Are we really going to allow them to continue to live on sidewalks, in our parks or at our beaches because these individuals have civil rights we think we can’t encroach upon?
In recent weeks I’ve heard people who view themselves as progressive say it’s not right that unvaccinated people should be able to go around and infect others with COVID. We’re now heading back in the direction of mask requirements and asking people to prove they are vaccinated before they can enter restaurants or places of work. For some jobs, workers will be required to prove they are vaccinated.
Hospital professionals say it’s not fair to their exhausted staffs. Taxpayers who are vaccinated end up footing much of the bill for those now becoming unnecessarily ill. I completely “get” the argument that the unvaccinated are trampling on the civil liberties of the vaccinated.
What I don’t get is why we don’t apply the same thinking when it comes to dealing with the homeless.
We have a population that poses a risk to themselves and others and yet we seem to value their civil liberties more than we do the civil liberties of the population at large. I don’t think this is progressive thinking – not at all. Our current approach to homelessness, in my view, is the cruelest approach of all, because so few will get the help they need.
Unlike those individuals who willingly choose to not vaccinate, many homeless individuals didn’t choose to become homeless. Many are so incapacitated mentally they can’t be expected to make good choices. The longer they are on the streets, the more their mental health degrades. They are in a trap.
Parents intervene when their children’s lives are at risk. To not do so is criminal neglect. So responsible adults need to intervene and get our homeless brothers and sisters the help they need. There is nothing wrong with this.
But rather than take responsibility, our city and county fiddle while Rome burns, hoping we won’t notice. But we have noticed. Big change is coming.