It was none of these things for the homeless.
For the homeless, it is a life without shelter, food, health care and a positive environment. Their environment is freezing and often wet.
Regardless of where you live, most would agree that we have a major societal issue on our hands.
While I have traveled to all but two states and all major cities, my perspective of homelessness is based upon the City of Los Angeles, because this is where I have lived for most of my career.
As the project manager of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal project in downtown Los Angeles, I became aware of “Skid Row” and the “homeless” in the late-1960’s.
I read in detail the report prepared by a national expert, Ronald Vanderkoi, for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency on the homeless population in downtown Los Angeles. I was struck by the causes of homelessness and the concrete recommendations that were made.
The causes of homelessness in downtown Los Angeles, San Pedro, the San Fernando Valley and the Westside were the same then as they are today. Further, they are the same causes nationally, then and now.
Many factors can contribute to a person becoming homeless. These factors include (but are not limited to):
- Lack of affordable housing
- Lack of health care
- Mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Domestic violence
- Job loss
When one drills down even further, we find that are five mind blowing facts about the profile of homeless people:
- One third are children (National Coalition for the Homeless)
- 50% are women and children fleeing domestic violence (multiple studies)
- Most people are homeless for two months (In fact, two-thirds are off the streets in two months.) (National Symposium on Homelessness Research)
- 25% of homeless people are employed (National Coalition for the Homeless)
- Many people become addicts after becoming homeless, not before. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study) The study found that of the homeless:
- 38% are alcoholics
- 26% are addicted to other substances
- 25% suffer from mental illness
Nationally, there are 1.5 million homeless people in America and, of these, 23 percent or 345,000 are veterans.
In the City of Los Angeles, there are over 25,000 homeless, with over 10,000 living in Downtown LA. Of the total, over 6,000 of the homeless are veterans.
Of these of national veterans who are homeless, according to the Veterans Administration, we know:
- 23% of the homeless population are veterans
- 33% of male homeless population are veterans
- 47% of the veterans are from the Vietnam era
- 17% Post-Vietnam
- 15% Pre-Vietnam
- 25% have used VA Homeless Services
- 76% experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems
To deal with the problems of the homeless veterans and the balance of the homeless, the Vanderkoi report that I read in the late 1960’s outlined the same strategy that people are talking about today:
- 7,000 homeless beds are provided in shelter in Los Angeles; 18,000 homeless have no shelter.
- LA needs to set up a voucher program for the homeless during the winter months (The cost of this program would be $27M, which equates to 18,000 at $50 per night for 30 nights).
- Public and non-profit buildings need to be made available;
- Battery powered heaters should be given to the homeless ($500,000, which provides one heater for every homeless person).
- Mayor Garcetti and the LA City Council has approved $12.4 million for emergency relief. Of the $12.4 million, $10 million for short term rent subsidies and $1.4 million for beds. (Since there is not a supply of housing for the homeless, the City will never spend the $10 million. The $1.4 million is going to be used in public buildings.).
- At $12.4 million, this works out to approximately $500 per homeless person. This equates to 10 nights of shelter person.
- Former Mayor Richard Riordan is so upset with the City’s lack of effort that he personally ordered 1,000 tarps and 900 ponchos.
- The homeless should be given tarps and ponchos ($500,000, which provides for each person in need).
- Currently, portable toilets and showers are open only eight hours per day. They need to be 24/7. The City needs to work with the homeless and let them make the rules and keep them clean.
- Longtime homeless activist Alice Callaghan, who is helping distribute the cold-weather supplies, assesses the homeless situation this way: “This city is bleeding and there is no concern out there. It’s unconscionable.”
- Garcetti was recently in Portland, Ore. at a meeting of West Coast mayors to address homelessness and climate change.
- Garcetti and the mayors of San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Eugene, Ore., called for more federal funding for affordable housing and homeless rental subsidies, and requested changes in federal funding formulas that they say ignore the heavy rent burden in western states.
- Callaghan criticized Garcetti for going out of town to “talk about homelessness” rather than doing something to address the anticipated weather and widespread displacement caused by soaring rents and development.
2. Build affordable housing with micro units (325 square feet) to house the homeless. (It is pretty clear that you cannot deal with any of the other issues facing the homeless unless you provide affordable housing.)
- Dennis Culhane, Professor, School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, a nationally recognized expert in homelessness and housing policy. His research has been instrumental in a national shift in how society addresses homelessness. He has worked with the City of New York to better understand its homeless issues and how the lack of affordable housing can lead to homelessness.
- Culhane provides his unique perspective by stating: “The fundamental irony here is that health insurance will pay for you to be in the hospital – $1,000, $2,000 a day – just to get you better. But then you will be discharged to the street, and they won’t pay for housing, even though those patients get readmitted more quickly and stay in the hospital longer.”
- The problem of affordable housing begins in the executive office of Sacramento. Even though Governor Jerry Brown lives in a redevelopment residential tower, he cancelled redevelopment in the state, which provided the necessary funding for affordable housing and has vetoed every affordable housing piece of legislation.
- Due to the inaction by the City, between 1990 and 2000, 15,000 residential hotel apartments in downtown Los Angeles, the most affordable housing in Los Angeles, was destroyed, threatening Skid Row’s residential community and forcing thousands of people onto the City’s sidewalks and into shelters.
- Not only were the existing units taken out of service, but, during the Great Recession, the City missed an excellent opportunity to purchase additional buildings, like the one million square foot May Co. building, and convert them to housing for the homeless.
- The responsibility for developing affordable housing for the homeless rests with the City and the Veterans Administration.
- In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has gotten approval for $2.6 billion that will generate 15,000 units for the homeless in 15 years.
- In Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti’s budget asked for enough money to develop SIX UNITS (emphasis added) in 2015-2016.
- Mayor Garcetti has been hanging his “homeless hat” on the housing that is planned for the VA in West Los Angeles.
- The VA in the late 1800’s was given 387 acres to HOUSE the disabled. (The VA has never fulfilled this mission. They have entered into leases with a private school, the UCLA’s baseball stadium, and storage for a car dealership, among other uses.
- The VA West LA master plan calls for 900 housing units and up to 2,500 units.
- Until these units are built, which is probably a decade away, the vacant land at the VA should provide modular units and army tents for the homeless. (The administrator of the West LA VA and the national VA do not want to do this. Well, they need to be moved out of the way. They have not fulfilled their mission and their mistreatment of the veterans is legendary. They have contributed to the homeless problem, so now it is time to use this valuable resource for part of the solution.)
- The Mayor cannot just hang his hat on the VA site. The City did not buy up the 15,000 units when we were in the Great Recession, so now it will cost more just to match what New York City is doing.
- Just to keep up with New York City, the City of Los Angeles will need to build or convert 1,000 units per year over the next fifteen years. (The annual cost will be $200 million per year or 2.6% of the cost of the first leg of the bullet train!!).
3. Health Care, Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Illness
- “Housing First” is key to being able to deal with the health care, alcohol, drug abuse and mental illness needs of the homeless.
- Jim Mangia, head of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in South Los Angeles, which runs 10 health clinics, said the homelessness crisis is having serious effects on public heath. Children are coming in with rat bites, and adults are going without medication or seeing their physician, he said.
- “We’re very alarmed by the health conditions we’ve been seeing as hundreds of people are thrown into the streets,” said Mangia.
- Once the homeless are within shelter and “stabilized,” they can go through a triage process, with a prioritization of their needs.
- There are two agencies that have to step up to the health care, alcohol, drug abuse and mental illness issues: the VA for the veterans and the County Health and Mental Health departments for the remainder of the homeless.
- The VA and the County need to make “house calls.” They need to outfit modular units on wheels like an ER and take them to the homeless. This should be done on a regular basis. (Between money from the VA, MediCal, the County and the largest health insurers in the State, the funding of this effort for the City of Los Angeles should be a no cost item.)
- First, this is a police and sheriff issue. The statistics speak for themselves. If the police and sheriff see women and children as a part of the homeless population, they need to know that 50 percent are on the streets because of domestic violence.
- Second, women and children should have priorities at shelters.
- Third, the women and children should become the purview of the County’s foster home care system. By becoming a part of the foster home care system, these women and children would get off the streets, get shelter and begin receiving the other social services they need.
5. Jobs and Poverty
- Los Angeles is the Poverty Capital in America. The American Community Survey numbers put out by the Census Bureau looked at poverty in 25 major metropolitan areas in 2013. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area had 17.6 percent of people living under the poverty line.
- Dealing with poverty, jobs and more housing, the City of Los Angeles must form a real partnership with the private sector.
- Not with the intention of losing their native language, but English must be mastered in order to not slip below the poverty line.
- Educational attainment must be emphasized by everyone: family, the schools, community and the City.
- Jobs, Jobs, Jobs must become the mantra of the City. Since losing the aerospace industry, the City must have a vision of what industries will take its place and how those industries can be attracted and flourish in the city.
- The City of Los Angeles must build more and denser housing. For example, in the last ten years the City of Los Angeles has issued less than 10,000 housing permits per year. For that same period, New York and Chicago have issued 35,000 and 30,000 permits annually, respectively.
To date, candidly, the response of politicians and bureaucrats has been less than underwhelming.
Jim Mangia shares the growing sentiment of many in the City of Los Angeles. “There’s not a serious response on the part of the city leadership.”
Currently, most cities increasingly make homelessness a crime.
For me, homelessness is a symbol of the failure of our society and our government to govern ourselves. If the police and fire departments did their jobs the way the City of Los Angeles deals with the homeless issue, there would be police and fire chiefs fired and the Mayor and Councilmembers recalled.
In addition to naming one person to be responsible for homelessness in the City of Los Angeles, like they do in New York City, the following is a recap of the financial commitment that is needed by the City of Los Angeles:
Cleaning, trash receptacles,
Showers and toilets 3
Temporary shelter 28
Permanent Housing (Annual) 200
Annual Cost $228
I am not sure that the City of Los Angeles has the will or the skill to deal with the homeless problem. If they cannot muster up both, Los Angeles will remain the homeless capital of America. No amount of political spin will change this.
Skid Row mural by This mural is located on San Julian St in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row. It’s painting was completed on August 1st, 2014. Photo by Stephen zeigler, Wikipedia creative commons license.
Street sleeper by David Shankbone, Wikepedia creative commons license.
Homeless person on street vent, sonyblockbuster, Wikepedia creative commons license.