Don’t let NIMBYs dominate this debate

“Where is the love?” It’s a question we’re routinely asking as supportive housing projects run into roadblocks. Even though most Angelenos believe in commonsense solutions to our homelessness crisis, an extreme but vocal minority refuses to even see homeless people as human beings.

In 2016, 77 percent of Los Angeles voters opted to raise their property taxes to pay for $1.2 billion in homeless housing, and, in 2017, 69 percent of county voters supported paying for the supportive services provided to people living in those buildings. But you wouldn’t always know we have such a large majority of support from attending your nearest Neighborhood Council meeting. These gatherings, which have a big impact on whether solutions to homelessness are implemented, can be dominated by an agitated and intolerant minority.

Folks against housing homeless people in their neighborhoods like to trot out all sorts of canards, like the idea that building supportive housing will deflate property values (in fact, it may raise them).  But what’s most disturbing is that they seem to blame homeless folks for their own misfortune, sometimes claiming (as absurd as it sounds) that some people simply want to be homeless.

A majority of Angelenos take a more compassionate view. Ninety percent of us don’t believe that homelessness is “someone else’s problem.” But we aren’t always speaking up; instead, we’re letting fearmongering NIMBYs speak for us.

Recently, in Orange County, intense community opposition derailed efforts to help hundreds of people living on the streets. Those who led the campaign against housing accused city leaders of trying to erect “tent cities” that would transform their suburban neighborhoods into bleak slums. Last week, more than 1,000 protesters showed up at the county’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Ana with signs reading “Keep Our Children Safe” and “Solutions Not Tents.”

Protesters denounced their homeless neighbors as “strangers,” but a recent survey by Orange County United Way found that 68 percent had lived in the county for 10 years or longer, and 90 percent were U.S.-born.

The study underscores the fact that homeless people are our neighbors, maybe even our relatives or friends. They’re local families who’ve been evicted and young adults recently let go from their jobs, and they’re living all across the Southland—more often than not in the neighborhood where they lost their homes.

But politicians aren’t going to throw their weight behind sensible solutions for housing them unless they have the public’s support. That’s why it’s so important to attend Neighborhood Council meetings in your area and let your voice be heard.

Tell your neighbors that building supportive housing is safer than letting people live on the streets. Let them know that ending chronic homelessness won’t lead to the destruction of your neighborhood’s character or decrease the property values of houses.

Homelessness touches every neighborhood in L.A. and the only way to solve this problem is for every neighborhood to step up and demand the supportive housing we know to be effective. Instead of allowing our leaders to kick the can to neighboring districts, let them know you believe in bringing everyone in.