By James Preston Allen, Publisher
California Gov. Gavin Newsom just announced a bold initiative to add some $1.4 billion to the budget to address the homeless crisis on the local level. He has called for an all-hands-on-deck approach from state agencies. This happened as a report revealed that California has some 148,000 unsheltered citizens—the largest population in the nation‚53,000 of them reside in Los Angeles County, more than 600 of them in San Pedro.
So it comes as no surprise that Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has proposed using a vacant county health department building at 122 W. 8th St. in San Pedro as a temporary shelter to address the homeless encampment just outside its doors. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino isn’t so sure that this is a good idea. However, the back-story to this current initiative by Hahn reveals that she has been overly patient with the city to take immediate action to address the crisis.
Back in 2015 (when the Harbor Area was just becoming aware that there was a homeless problem and the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council formed the first homeless committee in the entire city), Buscaino created a separate San Pedro Homeless committee, specifically excluding members of the Central Neighborhood Council. He appointed many of his anti-homeless friends to the committee instead. That group met for some nine months and never issued a report to the public.
You see, after advising the 15th Council District councilman for more than 18 months on policies and practices to address the issue, the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council made a statement with the notorious “tiny homes.” That incident was centered right outside of the now proposed shelter on 8th and Beacon Streets. However, since that time both the city and county of Los Angeles have adopted many of the recommendations that came from the original neighborhood council committee (sans tiny homes).
Many will recall the social media-fueled Saving San Pedro uprising that viciously attacked the Central Council for months on end and who subsequently captured control of that council. Their reign imploded due to a great deal of infighting amongst the anti-homeless faction and ended with the resignation of their leadership. The Central Neighborhood Council hasn’t quite been the same since, until recently when the reformed Central homeless committee decided to act in support of Hahn’s proposal to open this shelter project.
Clearly, in the years between then and now Buscaino’s positions have evolved to the point that he has now proposed opening three Bridge Home shelters in the 15th Council District. The one in Watts actually opened over the holidays. This is a huge change from his original position of enforcement and neglect.
Yet, Buscaino’s long promised shelter on north Beacon Street, as well as the one in Wilmington, has been mired in conflicts, red tape and delays for well over a year and Hahn’s proposal to activate an existing unused public building could be opened in a few months at a fraction of the cost.
Also during this time, the perspectives of the community have evolved. Fewer voices can be heard demanding that the homeless be simply arrested for violating the vagrancy laws. Even the highest ranking Los Angeles Police Department officers admit, “We can’t arrest our way out of this.”
People have come to understand that this is as much a public health crisis as it is a blight on their neighborhoods and it is a complex problem that won’t be fixed by gentrification. There are many factors driving the cause of the crisis among them being untreated mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, medical bankruptcies and rising rental prices that have increased over 40 percent in this past decade countywide.
What remains shocking is that we live in the wealthiest state in the union with an economy that ranks fifth in world and as was recently reported Los Angeles County is ranked number one among the 31 highest gross domestic product in the nation. This economic standing ranks Los Angeles County’s GDP to that of Saudi Arabia–think about that for a moment.
Our local harbor communities live in the shadow of the $400 billion year commerce of the international trade that transits our San Pedro Bay ports and yet we can’t find the solutions to shelter less than one half of one percent of our most distressed citizens?
All of this leads me to believe that we as a people, as a community and as citizens of this state can do much better. After all, we like to think of ourselves as “the innovators.”
And it’s time that we “innovated” some real solutions, not more excuses. It is well past time for our leaders to stop the hand wringing exercises and to present or accept the common sense solutions that have come from humanitarian concerns of the people of this area.
Besides the fact that Hahn’s proposal addresses the right now problem where it is occurring—it is also the prudent use of existing facilities at a far less expense than building new housing or even the Bridge Home. This is the solution that I’ve been calling for since 2015, but it is only the beginning as we need to embrace safe parking for people sleeping in cars, more mental health clinics, increased low income housing as well as a job creation program, not unlike the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
These may seem like idealistic goals, but they would bear much better results than spending billions more on fighting the next war with Iran or whoever pisses off President Donald Trump next week.
Urge Buscaino to support this project!