When I saw this scene yesterday of a homeless woman sleeping in the parking lot at Venice Beach, something inside me snapped. I was thrown back to photos I saw of Rio as a child of the luxury high rise hotels, condos and offices lining the beach, surrounded by huge tent cities of impoverished people. I wondered how a city could permit things to get so out of balance.
Looking at those photos, the situation didn’t seem “complicated” at all. All I could think was how could a society become so corrupt! Only massive corruption could cause a people to live in such extreme poverty.
When I moved back to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I noticed we have become as bad as the photos of Rio that I saw back then. The homeless are not confined to the Skid Row district. Their tents are found under every tunnel, underpass, and sidewalk in the city. I see them next to the swanky sidewalk cafes in my neighborhood, next to the new high rises in DTLA, and a very large homeless population growing in our beach towns!
Yet, living in it we tend to put the blame entirely on the homeless person. Drug addiction, a life of crime etc are to blame we say. But I have also spoken with some of them and I know that isn’t always true. One man who was afraid he may have ended up in one of my photos came up to me and begged me to not post them anywhere. He had lost his job, then his apartment and was afraid if a picture of him living on the streets was seen it would hurt his chances of finding work again. He wasn’t a drug addict, he wasn’t a drunk. He was forced out onto the streets in a city where rents are skyrocketing out of control at the same time wages are falling and jobs are hard to find.
We are responsible for our own conditions. But it isn’t hard to understand how some can reach the point where they just “give up.” Los Angeles has the highest homeless population in the United States. It also has the highest rents and some of the lowest wages. The average rent in Los Angeles is near $2500 a month! The average income in Los Angeles is $2250 per month. Sound discouraging? YOU BET.
It isn’t difficult to see why people turn to drugs and alcohol. They have no hope.
More subsidized housing or section 8 housing is not the answer. That strips the recipient of his dignity and increases the burden on businesses and taxpayers. It makes the problem worse.
However, developers could be required to build a certain number of units that ARE affordable in any building they construct. Most of the new rentals coming on the market require an income of over $90k a year to qualify to rent them. This is insane. They do nothing to address the housing problem in LA and as so few people that live in our city can afford them, they will soon be sitting empty and we will see another economic collapse similar to the crash in 2008 fueled by the housing market.
One building I know of in downtown Los Angeles presents a unique solution. The lower floors of the building are all “micro lofts” that rent out at very affordable rates. The upper floors are larger, more luxurious units are priced at the same market rates as other LA apartments. It works well. It would be an easy matter for city planners to mandate this type of set up before issuing building permits…. although it does mean they might have to forgo some of those under the table perks the would get to convince them otherwise. We also need to work out a way to lower the boom on the corporations that are eliminating jobs and cutting wages at every opportunity, while their CEO’s are busy buying new 747 Jumbo Jets for their private jets. We need to restore economic balance before the whole economy falls apart again.
We also need to work to clean up the drug situation. This ranges from the drug cartels, to the “friend” that encourages people to go down the path of drugs to the now legal pot that is being promoted madly, to the prescription drug pushers. Drugs are not a solution for anything. At best they put someone in a frame of mind where rather than do something about the situation that is squashing them, they simply reach for another high. As someone I know who smokes a LOT of pot once said: “I believe if everyone smoked pot we would have world peace. Everyone would be too lazy to have a war.” Or do anything else for that matter. Drugs simply cause someone to turn their backs to situations they should be doing something about.
Any one of us can do something about it. We can write our city council members and encourage them to mandate new apartment construction has to have a percentage of affordable units in it. Write your elected officials and demand they work to bring our jobs back home and break up the monopolies that are forcing wages out the bottom. Or simply discourage your friends from turning to drugs.
The wrong thing to do is nothing. We can all do something.