No place to sleep
May 14, 2015
Did you ever wake up and realize you were sleeping on the sidewalk, in a doorway, in an alley, in the street, in someone’s yard, in a parking lot, in a vacant lot, under a bridge, behind a building, or on a park bench? If you did, did you wonder where you were going next, where you would get a drink of water, where you would get some food, where you would use a toilet, where you could clean up, where you could change clothes, where you would find shelter, warmth, or security?
If you did, did you wonder how your family was or when you would see them? Did you feel helpless, desolate, depressed, desperate, ashamed, disgusted, or despondent? Did you feel ready to give up, maybe end it all?
If you lived like this, did you ever get rousted out by the property owner, a shop keeper, or the police? Did you wonder where you could go then? Did the police person tell you to go to a homeless shelter about 10 miles away, too far to walk with all your belongings on your back, especially not knowing if you would be admitted?
Did you ever keep all of your belongings in life in your backpack, luggage, or a shopping cart? Did you have to guard them day and night to prevent them disappearing and leaving you with nothing again?
Did you ever feel that you were invisible, that people looked through you and not at you, walked around you and avoided you and cast dispersions upon you with their looks of annoyance and disgust?
These are the experiences and feelings that we hear that homelessness engenders. These are the feelings that we can read on the faces of the homeless – feelings of helplessness and despair, shame and depression, disgust and anger – total surrender to realizing any normal way of life or any chance of a healthy survival or enjoyment of life – just a constant struggle to get through another day and another night.
That sounds miserable doesn’t it? Can you even imagine such a feeling of despair? Well, some of us live that life every day. Some have succumbed to addiction, mental illness, depression, joblessness, and just plain old hard-times. Many are veterans of wars that they were sent to fight the wars started by the rich and powerful, and came back damaged either mentally or physically, and can’t seem to survive in our winner-take-all economy.
Los Angeles has more than 40,000 homeless every night, 40,000 without any place to sleep, 40,000 without any place to eat, to bath, to rest comfortably, to have security, shelter and warmth. You can drive around Los Angeles and count the motor homes and camping trailers parked by the curb in areas that seem safe and where overnight parking seems permissible. These aren’t recreational vehicles for the most part, they are peoples’ homes.
You can go to Downtown or Venice or Hollywood and count them all night long each and every night. They move around as they are forced to by the property owners or law enforcement, but they are still there.
The cost of housing in Los Angeles has been hiked by the rentiers to the point that the homeless population is continually on the increase. Only 1 in 4 homes on the market in Los Angeles is affordable to the typical millennial household, according to the Zillow real estate website. You can pick up the LA Times and read about all of the amazing homes for sale each week for millions of dollars, some a hundred million dollars, but little if any homes are available at a price for which a working-class wage-earner could qualify. One of Zillow’s economists stated that the reason was, high home prices and low incomes. Wow, what a profound statement – who would have thought it?
Quoting a recent article in the LA Times by Gale Hollard and Souyma Karlamangla, “the homeless population jumped 12% in the last two years in both the city and the county of Los Angeles, driven by soaring rents, low wages, and stubbornly high unemployment ….. The number of tents, makeshift encampments and vehicles occupied by homeless people soared 85%, to 9,535, according to figures from Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority….Los Angeles has the nation’s largest concentration of homeless veterans.”
Quoting Steve Lopez, LA Times, “you see them behind bushes and in parks, in ragged tents and beat-up vans, on beaches and along arroyos, under bridges, in alleys and on sidewalks. It’s mostly men, a few women and some children. Enough is enough. We have heard all the soundbites before but it is getting worse.”
Quoting Christine Marglotte, head of Home for Good, a public-private homeless service, “In 2013, three veterans were becoming homeless each day – now, we recognize 10 become homeless each day.”
Quoting a LA Times editorial. “To be sure, ending homelessness is no easy task, the harsh realities: the lagging effects of the recession, a severe shortage of affordable housing, a drying up of federal stimulus money, gentrification downtown and elsewhere in the city. But the numbers also constitute a devastating indictment of city and county politicians … all of whom failed to correct the housing shortage countywide.”
So, there you have it. The rich and powerful individuals and behemoth corporations have hiked the rents up to the point that the young are forced to stay at home or room together, the older adults are stuck where they are, and the less fortunate are on the street with no hope in sight.
There are many efforts underway to resolve this crisis. Los Angeles is building residential units for homeless veterans in conjunction with the VA Medical Center. More than 400 mayors, 7 governors and others have signed on to the Obama administration’s challenge to end the veteran homelessness by 2016. New Orleans became the first to declare success. These sound encouraging but 2016 is just around the corner and so is 2017 and 2018. We need action, immediate action. This is a crisis which can be resolved and it should be resolved without delay.
Quoting Michael Antonovich, Los Angeles Supervisor: “…solutions are red herrings that will have little impact unless we effectively address the primary causes of homelessness: mental illness and substance abuse. … Reforms are needed to streamline court processes,establish realistic standards allowing judges to refer the severely ill to treatment, and allow families to have greater access in the treatment process … fully implement Laura’s Law, a compassionate, cost-effective program that provides court-ordered, intensive mental health treatment to the homeless, many of whom are incapable of consenting to treatment due to the nature of their disease.”
As far as the economic causes of homelessness, which are becoming more and more prevalent, it is time to take the advice of Thomas Piketty, French economist, and tax capital. If we tax the stored capital, excess capital of the rich and powerful, capital that they were able to accumulate as a result of the infrastructure and economy we provided for them, and initiate rebuilding the infrastructure of our cities, states and country – repair roads and bridge, build new schools, new hospitals, new housing for veterans, and hundreds of other worthwhile projects such as these, we will create millions of jobs, which will put billions of dollars directly into the economy, which will enable the construction of affordable housing for all classes, and which will pay dividends for generations to come.
If we don’t do it for any other reason, at least we could do it for the homeless, the desperate, those who have hit the wall and have nowhere to turn for help, who are living on our streets in deplorable conditions, while our economy prospers for those of us with privilege or better circumstance.
The above examples of homelessness in Los Angeles are exemplified throughout the US in most of the major cities, such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and many others. Homelessness may be somewhat more common on the West coast due to the favorable climate for sleeping outdoors, but the evidence is everywhere, throughout the country, that it is a systemic problem and that the efforts to treat those who are the victims is seriously lacking.
Have we no shame, no compassion, no sense of responsibility to our people, all of our people, including the poor? The playing field of comfort and luxury has been tilted against the proletariat for too long now. Now we need to tilt it in the direction of those with no place to sleep.
Think about it!
Think about them!