Who Has the Backs of LA’s Homeless?

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - The homeless in our City of Angels should be on guard. There are no invisible force fields to protect them from harm when many walk past them as mirage. One can only wonder who has their backs.

The four murders of homeless people allegedly by Izcoatl Ocampo in Orange County signaled a humanity deficit. The serial killer story swayed from stressing the perils of homeless street life and casualties of seeded hate and focused more on capturing an armed and dangerous suspect. The untold story behind the serial killings is the tragic loss of life and constant threat of violence on the streets. The homeless victims suffered from vicious stabbings, cried for help, wallowed in their blood, were alone, and succumbed to the place that they considered home. 

The all-points bulletin should have read “societal outcasts targeted for hate crimes.” That would have been a catchy title for attention because the street homeless have been put into a vagrant sub-category. 

We forget about the sensational stories of homeless victimization so quickly. The most memorable one, John McGraham, was doused with gasoline and set on fire in Koreatown in 2008. Fortunately, his assailant, Ben Martin got the death penalty. 

We lose sight of important legislation to protect the homeless. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal introduced AB312, a bill that would have granted homeless people the right to raise hate crimes protection under the existing law. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill claiming that California already had strong civil and criminal laws to provide for protection of homeless victims; and increased court costs.

We criminalize the homeless because we can’t balance quality of life with care and compassion. In South Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department is ticketing homeless people for quality of life crimes. Locals don’t want loitering, panhandling, and public drunkenness on their streets. On the flip side, homeless members who are simply pushing a cart, getting by off recycling, and don’t have a permanent place to stay are caught in sweep enforcements because they have no place to go. 

There is no first responder to homeless issues, except the police. Homeless people are being cited for their homeless condition. Inevitably, these citations will inhibit a person coming off the streets from getting employment, housing, and benefits for entities that require background checks.

We cut off housing supply. The Community Care Facilities Ordinance is destined to reduce the supply of homeless beds and alternative shared housing opportunities for those on fixed incomes. In Los Angeles alone, there is an estimated 53,000 homeless any given night. And, the demand for housing far exceeds the supply. 

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority affirmed in their January 27, 2012 opposition letter to the Mayor and City Council that the ordinance would increase homelessness and reduce available affordable housing options. Homeless people, particularly people of color, face extreme barriers to housing due to race, social, and economic factors.

We cause recidivism. If a homeless person can’t get a job or secure housing, the street is the final option. To survive on the street, some are tempted into high risk behaviors that affect public health and safety. 

One in five people who leave prison becomes homeless upon release or soon thereafter. AB 109 is poised to put the public at risk if no housing resources are made available. Its success hinges on preventing homelessness and housing the newly released. Some have been discharged to the streets and are among the general public already without a connection to their parole or probation officer. 

If no one is interested in the redeeming qualities of a person, the minimum that can be done is to allow housing that can be identified and watched by the local community. 

We have a moral obligation to care for our homeless and not treat them as invisible people. We have homes with no people in them. We have a housing crisis mislabeled as a homeless crisis. We have homeless people victims of violence and mean obstructions to prevent them from housing. It doesn’t take a State of the Union message by President Barack Obama to know that we need to have the back of our homeless.

(Janet Denise Kelly offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at jdkellyenterprises.org)

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