(Editor’s note: After I posted a story about Palisades residents questioning the safety of residents and homeless if Rec Centers were to be used for the homeless, I received at least 10 angry responses from people outside of Pacific Palisades demanding that we take our “fair share.” What they didn’t know is we already had. When the City said nothing could be done about the growing homeless on our streets in 2014–Palisades residents acted.)
When Pacific Palisades residents learned that the sole Recreation Center in town, which has already been closed because of coronavirus, was to be one used for housing the homeless, the reaction against the use was quick.
The Community Council, the Pacific Palisades Residents Association and residents sent letters to the mayor, opposing the move.
One might argue that this is a classic case of NIMBY’s (Not in My Back Yard), but its not. Unlike the City of Los Angeles, Venice, Skid Row, and other impacted areas, Pacific Palisades took steps in 2015 to help the town’s homeless.
The town had gradually become overrun with homeless, reaching a crisis point in 2014. City Rec and Park lands, which surround this isolated community were filled with people illegally camping.
Two fires, both started by the homeless (one a warming fire and another a revenge fire), threatened Huntington Palisades, resulting in evacuations.
One man in particular liked to masturbate on a sidewalk by a school, another kept harassing women and several others were found sleeping on local streets in this predominately residential community.
There were stabbings between the waring “unhoused,” and there had been fatalities when the homeless dashed across six lanes of Pacific Coast Highway.
There was a kidnapping and a hijacking of a resident and her car by a homeless individual.
Pacific Palisades did not have an assigned police car: there were no police in the community. If there were a 911 call, police usually had to come from West L.A. That meant if a resident witnessed something, they had to file a police report (in West L.A.).
There were many angry meetings and residents reached out to the City and asking for help and were told there was nothing the City could do.
As upset as people were by the squalor and the lack of action by City officials, a compassionate solution was agreed upon.
The Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness was formed in 2015. Led entirely by volunteers, the model was simple: money would be used to hire two social workers who would go among the homeless.
The first years it was difficult to raise money because it meant that about $60,000 had to be raised for each social worker.
The PPTFH has kept statistics: since social workers first hit the streets in 2016, there has been a reduction of 58 percent of the homeless and 116 individuals are now off the streets. About 152 pre-existing encampment areas have been removed and cleaned and there have been no new hillside fires.
I have participated in the Palisades Homeless Count every year. The first year, 2016, it was considered too dangerous to count at night and we were sent out in the early morning. There were 198 individuals counted that first year, according to LAHSA
The past two years, we’ve counted at night, and in 2019, there were 83 counted. Anecdotally, this year, the number was even lower.
I have helped to clean the encampments—and people should not be allowed to live in the conditions that the City allows—the trash, the urine, the feces are a health and environmental hazard.
One PPTFH member said. “We independently hired our own outreach group and are making a difference in our community. If we had left it up to the City, we would have had a lot of desperate people dying on our streets.”
Since then, the rest of California has agreed with Pacific Palisades that a compassionate view of the homeless needs to be taken and passed measure Prop HHH, raising money for the homeless.
Doctor Drew Pinsky, a graduate of Amherst and USC and a Pasadena resident, called the homeless on the street “a humanitarian emergency.” He says the answer is not a housing issue, and that sanitation has largely been ignored by the city.
“As a physician I’m incensed. What does the body count need to be before they will change their rhetoric? It’s out of control. Thousands of people are dying. What’s it need to be? 10,000? A hundred thousand?” Pinsky said. (There were 3,612 homeless deaths reported in L.A. County from 2014 to 2018, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of the coroner’s data.)
When I first started writing stories about the homeless in 2010, I was struck by how helpless so many were in their mental illness. The City’s lack of action is criminal.
Pacific Palisades residents are upset about the Rec Center being turned into a homeless shelter because it doesn’t solve the problem and isn’t even a good temporary solution.
The City, against CDC guidelines, is proposing shuffling the homeless out of their encampments into gyms. The CDC writes “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”