Have you read the L.A. Times series on homelessness yet? Each editorial is a passionate and principled argument for why we need to act now, and it’s impossible to come away unmoved. The series unpacks the history behind our homelessness crisis and shows us who’s responsible for fixing it (everyone). Here are a few choice quotes from each piece. After you read them, post a tweet and let others know we’re taking on this challenge and we need them to get involved.
Part 1: A national disgrace
Passing Measures H and HHH was the easy part. Money alone doesn’t solve problems, and in the end the tougher questions are how to spend it, where to spend it, on whom to spend it and how to measure success. If we hope that the crisis will be gone — or, more realistically, under control — when the money runs out in 10 years, we need city and county officials to explain what actions they’re taking and why, how many people they’ve housed or failed to house, what they expect to accomplish by the end of the year and by the end of the decade — so that we can hold them accountable for their actions.
Part 2: The economically homeless
Guadalupe Linares is an example of someone who teeters on the edge. She and her two children moved out of a $600-a-month illegally converted garage after a rat bit her son. But the one-bedroom she found cost twice as much, forcing her to take on long hours in multiple jobs, including cleaning houses and working in restaurants. Her 17-year-old daughter, Mariana, who had been thinking about a career in medicine, began missing school to help her mom clean houses from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. — which required her to transfer to an independent study program through the school district. She quickly learned that the program is full of kids putting their ambitions on hold while they work to help keep their families housed.
Part 3: NIMBYISM
Until the mayor and the members of the City Council treat the building of these 10,000 units of housing with the kind of extraordinary urgency this crisis requires — the kind that the federal and state governments bestowed upon, for example, the rebuilding of the broken Santa Monica Freeway after the Northridge earthquake — they simply will not be built. And they must be built. Supportive housing in particular — which offers not just a place to live but also access to job counseling and mental health and substance abuse treatment, among other things — is the best long-term solution for the chronically homeless, whose cases are the most difficult to solve. A substantial number of these housing units must be located in every single council district. They cannot just be concentrated in poor areas or in neighborhoods with less political clout. Already, a new report shows that even more housing will be needed than was estimated at the time HHH was passed.
Part 4: The mentally ill
[P]eople who should be in permanent supportive housing and clinical care are on the street in large part because a society that did so well at the easy and money-saving part of deinstitutionalization — releasing the patients, laying off the staffs, closing the hospital doors — failed to follow through with the difficult and expensive part. Few of the promised clinics were built. The funding was constantly delayed. It was finally supposed to come with the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, signed into law by President Carter. But the following year, Congress and the new president, Ronald Reagan, repealed the act.
Part 5: Compromise
The increasing visibility of homelessness and destitution contributes to the uneasy feeling that the problem is closing in on everyone. It’s also a daily reminder that the values and systems to which we cling — liberty, democracy, free enterprise, the social contract that’s supposed to hold a community together, the safety net that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable — haven’t steered us out of this mess. Nor have our leaders.
It’s not surprising that some Angelenos are angry or even afraid. But we need to channel those concerns into constructive action.
Part 6: Accountability
Every city and county elected official must be held to answer, individually and collectively, on a regular basis, for clearly communicating how well their programs are working, how many people they have housed — and how many they are leaving on the street.
It should go without saying that homelessness is an issue of a different magnitude than, say, fixing potholed streets or ironing out the problems in a new recycling program. This is a humanitarian tragedy of extraordinary proportions that the citizens and elected officials of this city and this county are morally obligated to solve by working together, committing resources and, in some cases, making sacrifices.
To that end, though, the people in charge need to show that they know what to do, that they are making tough decisions, that they are getting the most for our money and that the problem is receding. That’s what leadership requires.