Sixteen years ago, I was on a state Homeless Summit panel hosted by California’s then-Gov. Gray Davis in Sacramento. I and other advocates were optimistic that the state’s homelessness crisis could be resolved because of a $2.1 billion bond, Proposition 46, would provide new housing for people struggling with homelessness. Voters approved the bond overwhelmingly. Fast […]
“Whenever you have these big sporting events, there’s an attempt to make folks disappear”
Church bells rang out across Los Angeles, John Williams’s now-familiar Olympic theme blared triumphantly from 150 trumpets, and a man with an actual jetpack propelled across the Memorial Coliseum on July 28, 1984.
It was 86 degrees and sunny. Nearly 6 million spectators would watch the Summer Olympics in LA over the course of two weeks, with 20 million more households tuning in to the opening ceremony alone. The world had arrived in Los Angeles—and the city looked spectacular.
In and around the venue, neighborhoods were festooned in banners. The streets were lined with freshly-planted flowers, cleared of trash, and adorned with new murals painted by neighborhood youth who were paid to cover up graffiti. But for some of LA’s poorest residents, the festivities only made life harder.
In 1984, the cost of renting in LA was increasingly unaffordable, and the economy was still rebounding from a recession. The problems were fueling a homeless crisis so severe that, according to researcher Jennifer Wolch, Los Angeles was known as “the homeless capital of the United States.”
In the years leading up to the games, authorities cracked down, enforcing laws that made it a crime to be homeless rather than finding permanent solutions to the crisis. The beautification campaign explicitly targeted the homeless—residents in and around Skid Row were driven out of view as visitors flooded into town.
“We’re trying to sanitize the area,” Los Angeles Police Department captain Billy Wedgeworth told the Los Angeles Times one week before the opening ceremony.
As the games approached, mounted police and narcotics officers launched sweeps of homeless residents in Downtown neighborhoods where tourists were expected to gather, the LA Times reported. Dozens of homeless residents were arrested, sent to detox centers, or forced to relocate while their belongings were discarded.
“Whenever you have these big sporting events, there’s an attempt to make folks disappear,” says Jerry Jones, director of public policy at Inner City Law Center, a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides legal aid to Skid Row residents.
“The lesson from ’84 is that we tried a punitive approach,” he said. “That certainly didn’t solve the problem.”
In 2028, Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics for the third time, and, the homeless crisis is just as dire, if not worse. Residents and advocates are asking: Will officials learn from the missteps of 1984 to ensure the health and safety of its most vulnerable residents?
“I want to go all out during the Olympics so we give a good impression to visitors,” Los Angeles City Councilmember Gilbert Lindsay said in August 1983, after recommending that the city corral its homeless residents in what had historically been known as the “drunk farm” near Saugus.
“Let them sweat it out in the sun, grow vegetables to eat, and learn a trade,” he said.
LAPD commander William Booth told the LA Times that his department liked the councilmember’s way of thinking, “not only for the sake of the city, but for the sake of those indigents and winos who are suffering on the streets.”
LA didn’t resurrect its “drunk farm.” But it was around that time that City Councilmembers drafted laws to limit people’s access to public space—and control where they could live and sleep.
In 1982, the powers-that-be passed a law prohibiting “the use of streets for habitation.” The ordinance barred anyone from using vehicles parked on the streets “as living quarters.” In February 1984, six months before the games, councilmembers put a law on the books that banned sleeping on bus benches.
In August 1984, one homeless man told the LA Times: “Before the Olympics it wasn’t so bad. Now they really treat us like dirt.”
And it wasn’t just the homeless who were targeted as the city tried to spruce up its streets. According to one news report, a special task force made up of about 135 vice officers was created in June 1984 to crack down on prostitution. Over a five-week period leading up to the games, some 1,000 people were arrested on suspicion of prostitution-related charges.
An “operation of epic proportions” is how Gannett News described security measures for the 1984 Olympics.
As many as 20,000 security guards and police officers from dozens of departments and agencies were stationed at venues, practice facilities, and Olympic Villages.
“We’ll have more police officers on the streets of Los Angeles than at any time in the city’s history,” LAPD captain William Rathburn told the news outlet.
Los Angeles had a good reason to be concerned about public safety. In the wake of the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian gunmen who snuck into the Olympic Village, the LAPD and the FBI were focused on thwarting terrorist threats.
This didn’t just mean increased staffing. Documents that historian Max Felker-Kantor obtained through a public records act request show that, with help from the federal government, the LAPD acquired a slew of military-grade equipment, including specialized armor to protect helicopters from gunfire, flashbang grenades, ballistic helmets, an armored emergency rescue vehicle, and high-powered binoculars.
It’s unclear how much of that equipment was actually put to use during the Olympics. It’s also unclear how much of it the LAPD kept. But it did retain at least some of the lethal cache.
In 1985, the LAPD used an armored vehicle acquired during the Olympics to blast into a Pacoima home. The converted military V-100 had been used during the Vietnam War and was outfitted with a 14-foot battering ram, according to the LA Times.
“The message has to go out: If you don’t want a battering ram breaking down your wall and SWAT coming through your doors, don’t deal dope,” then-chief Daryl Gates said. The raid turned up “a small amount of marijuana and no guns.”
In 1984, the biggest concern about hosting the Olympics wasn’t the treatment of homeless residents or amped-up security. It was money.
City Councilmember Bob Ronka was so concerned the games would financially ruin Los Angeles that he helped force a citywide vote on a charter amendment that essentially guaranteed public money wouldn’t finance the games. It passed 74 to 26.
Not only was the economy weak, there was a housing shortage and an affordability crisis “of unprecedented proportions.” According to Wolch, rents skyrocketed more than 50 percent between between 1980 and 1990. The county’s unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in 1983 and 7.9 percent in 1984, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.
Those factors, combined with cuts to welfare services nationally and locally, caused LA’s homeless population to swell in the 1980s, according to a 2007 report she co-authored on ending homelessness in Los Angeles. The team of researchers who wrote the report also found the crisis was fueled by rising healthcare costs, the crack-cocaine epidemic, and a “rapid growth” in the number of residents who were uninsured.
There wasn’t a clear definition for “homeless” at the time or a standard way of measuring the homeless population, but according to Wolch, the the number of homeless people in Los Angeles County on any given night in 1984 was between 36,800 and 59,100.
Today, those numbers are—despite a booming economy—tragicallysimilar: 53,195 people in LA County are homeless, and the vast majority (39,826) are not in shelters. Nowhere else in the United States is the number of unsheltered residents so high.
“We still have a crisis of major proportions,” says Wolch. The drivers, she says, are the same: an extreme housing shortage and “a welfare state that has become increasingly frail—shredded really.”
Now, though, the city of Los Angeles has the money to solve the crisis. The state and local economies are thriving, and LA constituents have voted to tax themselves to pay for housing and services for the homeless. But lawmakers still lack political will to fix it.As one United Nations official said last December, after touring Skid Row, LA’s homelessness crisis is a “tragic indictment of community and government policies.”
Ten years from now, when Los Angeles shows itself off again on the world stage, authorities will have two options, says Jody Armour, a law professor at USC who studies crime and culture.
“They could opt for a more cosmetic approach,” he says. “Or they could do something concrete and substantive that addresses the lack of affordable housing and the lack of adequate jobs and mental health services.”
To an extent, those cosmetic changes benefited some neighborhoods in ’84. At the time, Antonia Ecung lived in North University Park, just north of the Coliseum. She helped write grant applications for summer job programs for local kids to plant flowers and cover up graffiti.
One junior high school, she said, painted new murals under freeway overpasses that remained in place up until about eight years ago.
“The students got a chance to display their artwork and do something for the community that they could feel proud of,” Ecung says.
That was a bright spot in what was otherwise a heavy-handed approach to polishing the city’s image that included pushing homeless people aside and saturating streets with police officers—something LA had in common with other American cities hosting big sporting events, from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco.
If Los Angeles wants to break that mold in 2028, historian Felker-Kantor says, local officials need to ask: “Can the police operations look less like an occupying force?” And, he adds, they need to do more than host community meetings.
In the lead-up to the ’84 games, the Inner City Law Center filed multiple claims against the city accusing it of conducting illegal search and seizures of homeless residents. The response to homelessness is more positive now, Jones says, but there are “worrisome” signs that homelessness continues to be treated as a crime and a blight.
The UN report noted that in Skid Row, there have been 6,696 arrests of homeless people between 2011 and 2016. In Koreatown, residents are busy trying to block an emergency shelter from being built on a parking lot, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has recently said he is considering reinforcing an old ban on sleeping overnight on sidewalks.
“It’s an honor to host the Olympics, but we have to rise to a recognition that everyone in our city is a neighbor,” Jones says. “We need to provide real solutions to poverty and homelessness and not just make people disappear because it’s convenient.”
Casey Wasserman, who is chair of LA 2028’s organizing committee, is also a board member at Vox Media, Curbed’s parent company. Vox Media board members have no involvement in Curbed’s editorial planning or execution.
As homelessness becomes an ever-increasing flash point in Southland politics, the most recent count of people living on the streets provided few answers.
Overall, the numbers are down – but in the South Bay, the homelessness problem is getting worse.
Countywide homeless data released in August, by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, revealed that the overall number of homeless in the South Bay region went up by roughly 1 percent, while overall in Los Angeles County, the numbers went down 3 percent, the first decrease in four years.
But besides an overall decrease, it appears the homeless population is also shifting to different areas, under different circumstances, the result being a spike in homelessness among some cities. More people are experiencing homelessness for the first time, for example, and more people are living in their cars, according to the data as analyzed by the South Bay Coalition to End Homelessness.
Nick Rasmussen, executive director of Family Promise of the South Bay, said the numbers accurately reflect what he sees on the ground every day while working with families –through faith-based congregations – to help them find housing. In his opinion, the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles is directly related to the housing shortage.
“It comes back to a lack of housing,” Rasmussen said. “You have a lot of families and small children falling through the cracks because you can’t build housing fast enough, and cities don’t want low-income affordable housing.”
The South Bay region – including Inglewood, Carson and San Pedro – have seen the numbers of homeless double since 2013, Rasmussen said.
One of the biggest differences in this year’s count came in Hawthorne, where 138 people were identified during the one-night survey on Jan 24. Last year at the same time, volunteers located 74 people.
In Carson, 462 individuals were found, compared with 378 last year; fewer adults were seen living on the streets, but there were four times as many people in their cars.
Torrance, too, had an increase, from 146 to 188. Out of those, 37 were on the street and 65 were found in cars, more than three times the number found in vehicles last year.
Read rest of article here.
Developed as a partnership between the True Colors Fund and National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the State Index on Youth Homelessness 2018 is:
- A state-by-state evaluation of the work being done to prevent and end youth homelessness in America.
- A snapshot of the legal, systemic, and environmental barriers that youth experiencing homelessness face.
- A guide to help elected officials improve their state’s work to end youth homelessness.
California tied for 3d in the top 5 states to address homelessness among its youth. Some areas where California has moved the needle relative to other states includes authorizing comprehensive supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness, preventing their contact with the criminal and juvenile justice systems, and promoting safety and inclusion by providing protections for LGBTQ youth within key state programs.
- State does not criminally punish youth who run away.
- State law provides partial or full contract rights for youth experiencing homelessness.
- State allows unaccompanied youth under 18 to apply for health insurance coverage on their own.
- State has RHY legislation similar to the federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) that provides funding for emergency services and other supports to prevent and end youth homelessness.
- The State Department of Transportation has systems in place to address proof of residency requirements to receive a state-issued identification card.
- There is a state interagency council on homelessness.
- The state has banned conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression.
- The state promotes safe and inclusive environments in child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway and homeless youth programs by providing protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Read the full report here.
Did you know that LA County Office of Education has a dedicated team of caring professionals in the Division of Homeless Children & Youth who support unaccompanied homeless students as well as homeless students living with their families. These social workers address the problems that homeless children and youth face in enrolling, attending and succeeding in school. If you or a student you know is homeless or nearly homeless and needs help, please contact LACOE’s Homeless Program at (562) 922-6247
Kaitlynn Park, 18, and Aramis Mobley, 19, a homeless couple, were getting clothing and food at a public beach in the Pacific Palisades, which is held up as a model of success for a community helping the homeless.Photograph by Philip Cheung for The New York Times.
July 2, 2018
In recent years, homelessness has leapt beyond its old boundaries, with more than 53,000 people living without homes this year. This means that Angelenos are encountering homeless people in places they never did before. I drove around the city to see what that change looks like. For many in Los Angeles, the spread of homelessness is a challenge to their identities as political progressives. Some are angered by the presence of the homeless and some communities have mobilized to keep shelters out of their neighborhoods. One setting for this clash is public libraries. The homeless come to charge their phones and catch up on the news, but sometimes their behavior alienates others. The homeless are especially visible when they stake a claim on tourist-heavy venues. On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, glitz and squalor collide. In Santa Monica, case workers and doctors visit the streets every day, offering medical aid and guidance on how to get help. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has called homelessness the “moral crisis of our time,” and voters have approved millions of dollars to tackle the issue. As I walked around with outreach workers, passers-by often stopped, seemingly surprised to see someone talking to the homeless. City officials recently urged residents to make “casual eye contact” with the homeless and say hello, or at least smile. Read the full article here
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved construction for a temporary bridge housing facility in Hollywood. This project is part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” program to provide emergency housing for the homeless.
This facility will be able to house 70 people at a time and offer supportive services for those experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues. It will also have 24/7 security to keep residents safe.
The campaign for this facility was led by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. “I want to thank the community for working with my office to make this happen in the 13th District,” O’Farrell said in a press release. “The support from area stakeholders, businesses, and organizations underscores the urgent need for a solution to address the homeless crisis across the city.”
To keep the facility in check, O’Farrell’s office will host a weekly meeting with stakeholders and representatives from the operators who will manage the facility – People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and The Center at Blessed Sacrament.
This bridge housing facility is expected to open in January 2019 and will be in operational for approximately three years.
Read original article here.