Whack-a-mole enforcement in a city spending $87 million on policing the homeless, and no solution in sight
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
Los Angeles Police Department Officer Maligi Nua Jr. greets me with a smile as he and two other LAPD officers watch a crew of yellow-shirted men from Beacon House and a team of white Tyvek-suited workers clean out the homeless encampment in front of the former Ante’s Restaurant in San Pedro. The workers are from Clean Harbors, a company that cleans up hazardous waste sites.
Nua is the 6-foot something, Samoan, senior lead officer for Central San Pedro who has an affable “aw shucks” humility and a dedication to community service. I can see he really doesn’t like evicting these homeless folks, as he has seen this happen all before. They get chased out of one location and they just move a few blocks and set up camp again. In fact, several of the homeless have already moved back to Anderson Park just up the street where they or others were evicted a few weeks ago.
This whack-a-mole type of enforcement has been consistently used by the city as a response to neighborhood complaints stemming from the city’s other actions, such as the renovation of Ken Malloy Park, made famous by Reggie the Alligator. There, some 161 homeless people were secretly encamped—out of sight and out of mind.
That there were homeless people lined up on this one block outside the former restaurant run by Ante Perkov Sr. and later his son by the same name—who had done so much charity in this community—is at least ironic.
That a large residential project is being planned for development on this property, now owned by one of San Pedro’s largest landlords—Jerico Development—is perhaps poetic justice. That they are in plain sight of San Pedro’s City Hall and the Los Angeles County Mental Health Clinic is just absurd. But absurdity, justice and irony are not easily discussed in this context, if at all. Nor are there any permanent solutions in a city where it was recently reported that the LAPD alone is spending up to $87 million per year policing the homeless.
The principals of Jerico Development, through their charitable Crail-Johnson Foundation donate anywhere between $1 million and $2 million to area nonprofits annually. And yet, with all of their charity and all of their work with groups like Harbor Interfaith Services and others, this homeless problem is far from solved. If we added up all of the charitable giving directed at solving this problem, it still wouldn’t come close to the $100 million that Los Angeles spends and what the county has yet totaled up in related annual costs. This is a problem bigger than any charitable solution.
What is even more curiously frustrating is that directly across the street from this recent encampment is the Los Angeles County Health Services offices, with an auditorium I’ve never seen used. They just spent a bucket of money placing a 12-foot- high steel fence around its parking lot.
That the homeless issue is being kicked around much like the homeless people themselves are being kicked out of every place they land is symbolic of the dysfunction of the civic debate on the issue. The response from Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office is reminiscent of his predecessor’s response to traffic problems: every complaint gets a stop sign.
How we fix this problem directly relates to the waterfront development issues we currently face, whether it’s the revitalization of Ports O’Call, the revitalization of San Pedro’s downtown core, or the eventual redevelopment of Rancho San Pedro public housing. All of these cry out for a coordinated plan in absence of a Community Redevelopment Agency or some holistic approach that includes the construction of more moderate-income residential units and housing for the homeless.
This, my friends and neighbors, is the big picture not taken into account when we talk about ridding San Pedro of homelessness from one street or park or another. This, my friends, is what’s not taken into account when we only incrementally address the aforementioned challenges in isolation.
When people ask, “Why hasn’t San Pedro realized its full potential?” or, “Why do we have the lowest cost housing closest to the water in all of Southern California?” The answer is that we keep solving a complex problem with singular “stop sign” fixes in lieu of comprehensive planning, which includes coordinated development and intelligent urban design.
You can see the basis for this critique in what has happened in the port city of Baltimore. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent over decades to redevelop their waterfront. But just blocks away in the shadow of their grand development stands an entrenched poverty- stricken community, with an unemployment rate twice that of the rest of that city.
The economic injustice of Baltimore should stand out as a major red flag to all of us with intentions to redevelop this Los Angeles Harbor Area waterfront. The homeless encampments are not just a public nuisance, they are the canaries in the coal mine and a warning of greater undercurrents. One can only assume that the cause of homelessness and poverty in Baltimore and their failure to cure it is at the root of the current uprising against the police.
Not far from Baltimore, where the flames of injustice rose last week, stands in our nation’s capital the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument, of men waiting in a soup line cast in bronze. The inscription is a quote from Roosevelt:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
That says more on this subject than all of the arguing on Facebook over the homeless or has been printed to date in the Daily Breeze about the encampments.