The homeless encampments that surround Gold’s Gym in Venice, are stacked under the 405 Freeway on Venice Boulevard and even the “town” on Skid Row are the results of choices made by our elected officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles is treating the challenge of unhoused Angelinos as if homelessness is the issue, rather than the result of different causes.
Those who are homeless fall roughly into one of four categories: 1) substance abuse, 2) mentally ill, 3) foster care transition/domestic abuse and 4) economic issues from loss of income.
On October 8, the Palisadian-Post published an interesting Letter-to-the-Editor by Drew Dennett and Gabrielle Lee (“Is Los Angeles Addressing Its Homeless Crisis Correctly?”).
Drew, who graduated from Palisades High School and then college, admitted that he had become addicted to heroin and had been homeless and sleeping in his car. “Avoiding the pain of heroin withdrawal was more important than sleeping in a bed or eating a hot meal,” he wrote.
Lee added her voice to the letter, noting she works at an agency that focuses on the unhoused population. “I am constantly told stories about mistreatment in hospitals, incarceration for receiving substance abuse aid, being harmed and being isolated by housing programs.”
The two wrote that roughly 30 percent of the unhoused in the United States struggle with substance abuse and asked in the letter why funds that target the homeless are not used to help those with substance abuse.
They cited studies from Australia that show “government-funded detoxification services, drug and alcohol counseling and support services and intensive rehabilitation services” have been successful.
Have you ever wondered how Pacific Palisades has avoided the large encampments that are appearing and seem to keep growing in other areas of the City?
Compassion at the grassroots, neighborhood level.
About five years ago, several community meetings were held here, trying to address the fact that an influx of homeless into Pacific Palisades was affecting the quality of life. Parents were worried about allowing their kids to walk alone on the streets in the business area, and two dangerous brush fires were caused by transients living on the hillsides above PCH.
Residents were told by Councilman Bonin that the City couldn’t do anything about removing homeless individuals camping in brush-covered terrain, and that these people couldn’t be incarcerated for being homeless.
Residents felt sympathy for those on the streets and wondered what they could do to help. In response, community activists formed the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness with a simple idea: hire professionals to help homeless individuals get off the streets and into shelter (pptfh.org). Ever since, the task force has been able to raise funds from residents, local churches, the American Legion and foundation to hire two full-time social workers to carry out this mission.
To prevent fires, the task force has also worked with City officials and the LAPD to stop unauthorized camping on city land in very high fire severity zones (with warning signs posted).
Over the past four years, the two social workers have made contact with hundreds of homeless individuals living within the Palisades. They try to learn the cause of their homelessness— substance abuse, mental illness, or an economic problem–and offer assistance to match the problem.
The local LAPD beach patrol has played an important role, because some of the homeless are selling meth or other illegal substances and have no respect for social workers or volunteers.
From 2016 to mid-September 2020, the task force social workers have helped 132 individuals get off the streets, 85 people are in permanent housing (tracked for one year) and 152 pre-existing abandoned encampments areas have been removed and cleaned.
Legislation needs to be enacted that allows more latitude in dealing with the mentally ill. In January this year, the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH) held a community meeting focused on “The Demedicalization of Mental Illness.” Dr. Joel T. Braslow spoke about how many people with severe psychiatric illnesses are now denied admission to hospitals and the mentally ill homeless are no longer seen as an acute psychiatric emergency in need of immediate intervention.
Why does Ruby sleep by the library every night and why does Margaret sleep on the streets? Both have been offered help by the PPTFH, but both have refused.
Braslow says it is a mental disorder that drives their inability to function in general—but that this disorder is not recognized by the state.
How is the City proposing to help the homeless? Right now, the City has approved installing pallet housing at three different parks. That means that homeless individuals will be moved from under freeway underpasses (per U.S. District Court Judge David O. Court injunction requiring relocation) to parks.
Residents who live near the parks are upset because recreation and open space land is being taken away. These people are compassionate, but worry about their neighborhoods and ask questions: Who will be administering the program? How will people with substance abuse or mental illness be helped? Will people who are out of work be given job-counseling and assistance?
In my opinion, pallet housing won’t work because it treats everyone the same.
There is already a proven model of what works, and it was started by the PPTFH.
Letter writers Drew and Lee are right. Money should be set aside to help those with substance abuse. Money should also be directed towards legislation to change what can be done for the mentally ill.
The foster care system needs to change to help those who have aged out with no place to go, and money needs to be directed towards domestic violence programs that aid victims.
For those who are unemployed, job skills and aid in interviewing needs to be set up. Social workers should be funded to meet and interview homeless individuals.
The last thing taxpayer money should be funneled towards is building overpriced housing, such as documented in October 2019 by Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, who found the cost of building a homeless unit was $600,000.
Something needs to change in the City. Housing is only one part of a complex puzzle that requires us to stop treating all homeless the same.