Sunday, February 25, 2018

Los Angeles' Homelessness Crisis is a National Disgrace

The L.A. Times begins a series of editorials on the city's homeless crisis today.

It's a thoughtful piece, putting a lot of things in context, including recent local voter initiatives to fund new programs and housing to alleviate the crisis.

See, "Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis is a national disgrace":


How did we get here? From the founding of this newspaper in 1881, the pages of The Times have been filled with stories of those we have called, at various times, vagrants, hobos, tramps, transients and drifters. And for as long as there have been homeless people, there has been a tendency to blame the victims themselves for their condition — to see their failure to thrive as an issue of character, of moral weakness, of laziness. Since the “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill in the second half of the 20th century, and the subsequent failure of government to provide the promised outpatient services for those who had been released, the problem has grown significantly worse.

Today, a confluence of factors is driving people onto the streets. The shredding of the safety net in Washington and here in California is one. (Consider the inexcusable shortage of federal Section 8 vouchers for subsidized low-income housing, or the dismally low level of “general relief payments” for the county’s neediest single adults.)

At the same time, California is experiencing a severe housing shortage. Gentrification is taking more and more once-affordable rental units off the L.A. market, and restrictive zoning laws along with high construction costs and anti-development sentiment make new affordable units hard to build. Over the last six years, the rent for a studio apartment in Los Angeles has climbed 92%, according to UCLA law professor emeritus Gary Blasi, so that even people who have jobs can find themselves living on the streets after a rent spike or an unexpected crisis. As Blasi notes: “In America, housing is a commodity. If you can afford it, you have it; if you can’t, you don’t.”

Contrary to popular belief, the homeless in Los Angeles are not mostly mentally ill or drug addicted, raving or matted-haired or frightening — although a sizable minority meet some of those descriptions. They are not mostly people who drifted in from other states in search of a comfy climate in which to sponge off of others; the overwhelming majority have lived in the region for years. Today, a greater and greater proportion of people living on the streets are there because of bad luck or a series of mistakes, or because the economy forgot them — they lost a job or were evicted or fled an abusive marriage just as the housing market was growing increasingly unforgiving.

It will surprise no one to learn that it is the most vulnerable among us who usually end up without a place to live. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, more than 5,000 of the county’s 58,000 homeless people are children and more than 4,000 are elderly. About one-third are mentally ill. Some 40% are African American. Also heavily represented: Veterans. The disabled. Young people from the county’s overwhelmed juvenile justice system and its foster care programs. Men and women just released from jail, without the tools or skills needed for reentering society. Patients released from public hospitals — often with untreated cancers, infections, heart disease or diabetes. Victims of domestic violence.

All the great social issues of American society play out in homelessness — inequality, racial injustice, poverty, violence, sexism. Naturally, life expectancy for the homeless is short: about 47 years, according to skid row doctor Susan Partovi, compared with 78 in the population as a whole...
RTWT.

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