There has been an upsurge of homeless deaths reported this winter; especially with the recent cold snap we had in November and December. This should be no surprise here in Los Angeles. For years Los Angeles has carried the shame of being the Homeless Capital of the United States. And, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the population of homeless people being sheltered in Los Angeles (only 16.7 percent) is the lowest percentage being sheltered by any major city.
In a NCH study of Los Angeles County homeless deaths, occurring from January 1, 2000 to May 28, 2007 and solely based on information provided by the LA County Coroner’s office, the total deaths were 2,815. Of this number 1,277 were in the City of Los Angeles (Venice is part of Los Angeles City), 154 were in Long Beach, 111 in Santa Monica, 55 in Pasadena, and 48 in Hollywood. The leading known causes of death were cardiovascular.
In another more recently published 11 year study of homeless deaths in Sacramento County, by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, a reported 501 people died as “transient” or without a permanent address (according to the Sacramento County Coroner). About 77 percent of the deceased 501 spent time in the county jail.
Bob Erlenbusch of the Coalition to End Homelessness is calling for creating safe places for homeless people to stay, places for them to receive care; where homeless people can live with basic facilities and without police interference. We need a movement for this in Los Angeles. It will save lives and give people a place to rest with some dignity.
The endless cycle of criminalization and incarceration of homeless people is a well funded city effort, with the Safer City Initiative in Skid Row and the Homeless Task Forces in Venice. Law enforcement is no solution and can cause severe stress to those already suffering. It’s just cruel and unnecessary – yet using law enforcement to deal with poverty is deeply rooted in our police force.
The largest spending piece of the Los Angeles City budget pie goes to Public Safety, with a considerable percentage going to “quality of life” law enforcement. You can thank the promoters of quality of life policing, the constant fear mongering that gets many people to choose Public Safety as their top priority, the pro-law enforcement answer to everything scary we get with a tilted community policing system, and our city council creating tons of quality of life laws for the police to enforce.
Of course housing, not law enforcement, is the main solution to homelessness. Except Los Angeles isn’t providing temporary shelter to but 16.7 percent of its homeless population! The lack of affordable housing is another hall of shame horror to be awarded to Los Angeles. There is an extreme lack of affordable housing and little incentive to create it. No one knows how much is being lost due to the development of unaffordable housing, when affordable housing is plowed under. And it is well known that the lack of affordable housing is a major cause of homelessness.
Recently I reviewed an amendment by the Los Angeles City Planning Department to the small lot subdivision ordinance. The reason for the amendment was that it will now be more streamlined. Small lot subdivision is a tool for developers to make money by removing older [more affordable] housing, splitting the lot, building to the edge of the new lots, and selling the new mini-mansions to the more wealthy people moving in Venice. Yes, small lot subdivision is booming in Venice.
This is another glaring example of how our city is just on the wrong side to ending homelessness, preserving affordable housing, or protecting the character of a community.
There is hope. It’s we the people. Around 700 people went to demonstrate in Hollywood against the LA City Councilman LeBonge motion that would restrict feeding homeless people in public. A large group of people came out on Christmas day to serve homeless people on Venice Beach this year. A volunteer (mostly Occupy Venice people) effort is staffing a shipping container used for homeless people to store their items so they can go in to the temporary Winter Shelter program at night. And it looks there may be a favorable outcome to the 9th Circuit case regarding the Los Angeles City law making it illegal to live in a vehicle. Venice may even succeed in opposing the small lot subdivision crisis. Who knows.
All very hopeful and a good time for people to think about prompting the city to move in a more positive direction so homeless people will not be treated as criminals. Those who oppose cruel and inhumane treatment of homeless people seems to be on the rise. Also homelessness is on the rise.
The City and County of Los Angeles must become accountable for the required affordable housing needed to solve homelessness - instead of being more accountable to the profit of developers and instead of using the city budget on law enforcement as if its some kind of a solution to poverty. Until then we will remain in this vicious cycle and any suggestion of solving homelessness in Los Angeles is just a pipe dream.
While we are all waiting for an adequate amount of affordable housing to magically appear here in Los Angeles, in order to save lives, we have to provide emergency services on the streets where many people have been forced. It’s really a matter of life or death.
All this talk from politicians (and the non-profit shills that rely on city funding) about how we are enabling people to remain homeless - should be shut down. It is enabling people to stay alive, stay warm, stay fed, and get clean socks or a warm coat.
Now, while we are at it, let’s start a new conversation about creating some safe places for homeless people to be legally and without being made to literally run to the next town by the police. A place to rest, park or store belongs, and a place with 24/7 sanitary facilities. I know that is what homeless people in Venice need desperately.
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