I participated in the 2020 Homeless Count early this past week in Pacific Palisades. I have participated since 2015, the first year it was conducted here. Although the official numbers are generally not released until later this spring, anecdotally it appears that the numbers in Pacific Palisades have once again gone down.
Why do we have continually lower numbers than in other areas of Los Angeles? There are several important reasons, but this certainly wasn’t true just a few years ago.
For instance, a February 2014 article (“Transients Blamed for Assault and Fire”) detailed how a woman walking in the Palisades business district was struck in the face by a 50-year-old transient. A January fire that raced up the hillside below Corona Del Mar was also blamed on the homeless.
After that fire, residents were told at a public meeting that there was nothing they could do to change the situation. Homelesss people and transients were allowed to camp on public property because of the court case Levan vs. Los Angeles.
Residents asked if there was something that could be done to help the homeless who had sores on their arms or legs. “No, if they don’t want to go to a hospital, we can’t make them,” was the reply.
But what about the fire risk from a cooking stove or a warming fire? “It is not a crime,” residents were told.
Battalion 9 Chief Scott Campos also warned of another problem with the homeless living along PCH. “In 2013, three individuals were killed crossing Pacific Coast Highway going to the [Will Rogers Beach] showers.”
At that meeting, a City prosecutor said she planned to prosecute the transient accused of assault. “It is a collaborative effort, that if an arrest is made, then people need to come to court to testify,” she said.
“We know we can’t arrest our way out of the homeless situation,” LAPD Captain Evangelyn Nathan said. “We’re looking for the best solution and something that will help all of our community.”
In an October 2014 story (“Visiting with Palisades Homeless”) I wrote: “Pacific Palisades residents continue to complain about the homeless, especially after a man’s bare butt was photographed in September as he slept on a sidewalk in the Village, and the photo went viral.
For that story, I spent a Friday night with seven homeless people in a one-block area on either side of Gladstone’s restaurant (on PCH at Sunset). Some of these transients lacked teeth and others had visible sores.
I looked back at my story prior to joining the 2020 Homeless Count, because I was assigned to a group that canvassed the same area by Gladstone’s (Sunset from Palisades Drive to PCH and west to Coastline Drive. The area included Los Leones Park, Paseo Miramar and Castellammare.)
I’ve counted in this area three times. The first time we found homeless in Los Leones, and the number of people sleeping along the ocean was high. Last year, when I returned to the area, the number of people we counted had dropped dramatically—with no one in Los Leones.
This year in our area, we mostly had a nice night walk through an empty park, and a stroll along Will Rogers Beach, where we saw night fisherman. My group recorded a total of one tent, two homelesss people and several RV’s.
Back in October 2014, after being told nothing could be done, the community rallied to form the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness with the statement: “We believe that the welfare of both our homeless people AND our community are important and compatible priorities.”
Well over $100,000 was raised so that two social workers could be hired to reach out to transients and help them secure services. Also, residents were able to secure City-supported signs that prohibited camping in high-fire-risk zones.
Volunteers began cleaning up abandoned homeless encampments and other volunteers walked the streets and bluffs looking for new homeless to see if they could be helped. LAPD provided two officers who could accompany social workers into areas where there was repeated drug use or where the transients were potentially violent.
The Task Force also began holding monthly meetings to provide educational opportunities for the community. At the upcoming meeting on Monday, January 27, at the Palisades Library, a mental-health expert will address the issue of mentally ill homeless people who refuse treatment. This is one area where residents are unable to provide assistance because of existing laws.
Circling the News reported on a transient being hit while crossing PCH on January 15. On January 24, I received the following message:
“Whom do I contact regarding this? He was not a transient…he was my 22-year-old son, Tyler Hendrickson. He was struggling with a mental illness and was supposed to be receiving services and it was raining and people in the program stole his phone and clothes and I didn’t know where he was until I got the call that my son died of blunt force trauma. I have been trying to find information about this and this [the CTN article] is the first thing I have found. Please help me.”
We have heard enough platitudes from Councilman Mike Bonin, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Gavin Newsom, who remind us how the homeless could be any one of us, but by “the grace of God.”
Under their leadership, the homeless population has grown exponentially. Mental illness has not been addressed, drug use is rampant, it has been acceptable to let people put up tents under freeways and on city streets. Sanitation is an issue that is waiting to explode in a resultant epidemic.
The two LAPD officers who work with the homeless in our area have contacted diseases while interacting with the homeless, including staphylococcus and Klebsiella pneumonia.
I have empathy for the homeless. But for our politicians to do nothing except make speeches and chide us for not understanding the complexity of the issue is insulting.
Starting from scratch just five years ago, residents of Pacific Palisades came up with a task force approach that has been clearly successful. This model should be implemented in communities across Los Angeles and California.
Meanwhile, officials at every level need to tackle “the elephant in the room” that few authorities are addressing: What to do about the mentally ill? Do mentally ill homeless people really have the capacity to chart their own future? How can the laws be changed to allow for a humane way to get the mentally ill off the streets and into care facilities?