Winning Back the Streets

Political Handout for Traci Park

An intense campaign is shaping up for Los Angeles’s City Council District 11 between two defense attorneys: Erin Darling, a Progressive Democrat, and Traci Park, probably a Republican. At stake is the proliferation of homeless encampments in the district.

On Saturday morning, Martine and I had a chance to see a debate between Darling and Park. We were unimpressed by both of the candidates—though we suspect that Park is more willing to enforce existing laws forbidding encampments near schools, churches, and public parks.

In general, there are two prevailing voter viewpoints regarding the homeless: On one hand, there are the Mother Teresas and, on the other, the Darth Vaders. If a homeless person is willing to observe the law and is seriously interested in leaving the street encampments, I am willing to join the Mother Teresas to assist them. For those who are mentally hill and are unwilling to obey rules regarding alcohol and recreational drugs, I prefer the Darth Vader approach: drive them off the streets, by force if necessary.

Political Handout for Erin Darling

Although Erin Darling is endorsed by the Los Angeles Times and several liberal politicians and organizations, I see that Traci Park is endorsed by the Fire Department and local Police Departments. I rather suspect that Darling is one of those Woke Liberals I dislike as much as Trump’s MAGA insurrectionists. At one point in the debate, he spoke glowingly of the skateboarding community. What, aren’t they all still in Middle School? Sheesh!

The older I get, the more I realize that we are rarely presented with candidates and issues which we can enthusiastically support. All Martine and I care about is cleaning the garbage piles off the streets (usually associated with bums living in tents); cutting down on petty thefts of bicycles, medications, food, and drink; and threats of violence from rampaging bums (which have affected both Martine and me).

Calcutta on the Pacific

Bus Stop at Bundy and Santa Monica

When I first arrived in Southern California at the tail end of 1966, I was pleasantly surprised by how crisp and clean it looked. Coming from grungy red-brick Cleveland, coated with decades of industrial grime, I really felt I was making a new beginning.

Cut to today. The city is crawling with bums (excuse me, “the homeless”) who think nothing of spreading garbage all around. The trash cans are all filled to overflowing, and alleyways are festooned with human excrement.

It seems that every year there are more men living in tents and ratty looking old Winnebago RVs parked up and down the streets. There has been a bum encampment now for upwards of ten years right across the street from my apartment. When I go to the local Seven-Eleven, there are scruffy men asking for “spare change.”

There are also a few women in these encampments, but their appearance usually begins a new round of competition for their favors, marked with nights of cursing and violence.

I still love L.A., but am dismayed that politicians don’t seem to want to face the problems that confront them. On one side, they face opposition from woke liberals who think they should be left alone, and the majority of the population, which would rather see them housed somewhere else. Considering that most bums are not into following rules regarding alcohol and recreational drugs, or any kind of personal hygiene, the latter is not a viable option.

Times are tough when vagrancy is considered the norm.

Waterless Tuesday

I woke up this morning to bad news. A notice was taped to our front door indicating that our water would be shut off on Tuesday between 8 am and 4 pm. That meant I would have to camp out for several hours where I would have access to a lavatory. What came to mind was the Westfield Shopping Center in Culver City, perhaps after I took my car in for an inspection of hoses, belts, fluids, and tires for next week’s trip to Las Vegas.

The apartment building management stated that the water shut-off was for “maintenance repairs,” never specifying the exact nature of the maintenance repairs.

Today meant even more bad news for the homeless encampment across the street. The police showed up with several trucks and disposed of a number of (but not all) the tents, and most of the associated piles of rubbish that accompanied them.

I have tried to avoid interacting with these campers, though I had a run-in when I returned from the desert two weeks ago. Tired from a 130-mile (201 km) drive from Palm Desert, I pulled into my parking spot only to find it occupied by a bicycle bum sitting on the pavement and eating a bowl of cereal. He was incensed that I asked him to move and urged me to go f—k myself. I returned the favor, and he left in a surly mood. When next I returned to my parking spot, I saw that my vehicle was decorated with spilled milk and some kind of multi-colored fruity cereal. Naturally, I had to get my car washed that afternoon.

Levels of Mean

I have been accused by some people of being mean to the homeless, typically by people whose experience of homelessness has been very different from what I have encountered. There are people who manage to get out of living on the streets. Usually, this applies to women, especially women with children. I write mostly about people who can more accurately be described as bums and their associated scags.

Does that sound mean? It should given my experience with garbage, poop, fights and screams in the middle of the night, vandalism, aggressive begging, theft, and stench. And this all is less than a hundred feet from my front door. Let us look at three levels of opposition to homeless encampments:

  1. Approach with flamethrowers and baseball bats.
  2. Apply political pressure to get them off the streets.
  3. Refuse to engage with them in conversation.

I am at level 3. When approached by a bum, usually to request a cash donation, I talk to them only in Hungarian. Ever since running into a Hungarian beggar in Vancouver, BC, I do not swear at them in Hungarian. All I want is for them to walk away looking confused.

Is this mean and heartless? Not really. I do not think much of the bums who live across the street from me. I do not sneer at them or give them any indications of opposition. If they want to talk to me, I just insist that it be in Hungarian. And I do not work with politicians on the problem, because I think they have no idea of the nature of the problem. There are just too many widely varying opinions across the entire political spectrum. Mine is just one of them, and by no means the most heartless.

Hitting Rock Bottom

TLOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 24: Lisa Rogers, a homeless woman, carries her tent as she relocates her camp on January 24, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Los Angeles has the highest number of homeless people in the nation with close to 13,000 living on the streets. The annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count begins today and will continue through Thursday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

To begin with, there are a hell of a lot more than 13,000 homeless living on the streets of Los Angeles. I would put the number at close to 5-10 times that many. I have just finished reading Sam Quinones’s excellent book The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, from which the following paragraph is taken:

We used to believe people needed to hit rock bottom before seeking treatment. That’s another idea made obsolete by our addiction crisis and the current synthetic drug supply. It belongs to an era when drugs of choice were merciful. Nowadays people are living in tents, screaming at unseen demons, raped, pimped, beaten, unshowered, and unfed. That would seem to be rock bottom. Yet it’s not enough to persuade people to get treatment. In Columbus, Ohio, Giti Mayton remembers a meth addict who was hospitalized with frostbitten, gangrenous hands, yet who left the hospital in midwinter to find more dope. San Francisco and Philadelphia, two cities with years of experience with heroin, are seeing users homeless and dying like never before. The dope is different now. Today, rock bottom is death.

The United States of Addiction

Across the street from my apartment is a row of some dozen or more tents usually surrounded by piles of trash and inhabited by people we typically refer to as homeless. (To me, that’s about as useful as referring to my neighbors in this building as “the housed.“) The easternmost tents have the most stable residents, while the ones to the west come and go. Some die of drug overdoses; some are hauled away by the police or ambulance; and, hopefully, some manage to escape life on the streets by happier means. They spend much of the night yelling at one another, particularly if one of the campers is a woman. It’s nobody’s idea of a stable community. Yet Los Angeles has tens of thousands of similar campers, whose numbers seem to be growing every week.

What are the causes of this phenomenon? One could certainly point to economic causes, such as the insanely rising cost of housing. There are also various social causes, such as people released from prison. In my neighborhood, many of the tent dwellers are military veterans as I live two miles from a major Veterans Administration hospital. I suspect, however, that the major causes are a combination of mental illness, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

I am currently reading a new book by Sam Quinones entitled The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. Its author talks about how a relatively new drug called Fentanyl has taken America by storm. Not relying on growing and processing a crop, such as cannabis, cocaine, or opiois, fentanyl is produced in the lab from such substances as Benzylfentanyl and 4-Anilinopiperidine. It is now readily available and devastatingly cheap. So cheap that small amounts are frequently mixed in with cocaine and opioids. The result is twofold: .

  • A more satisfying high
  • A vastly increased mortality rate

The above illustration from the Drug Enforcement Administration tells the whole story, comparing the amount required to cause overdose deaths of heroin, carfentanyl (developed to anesthetize rhinoceroses), and fentanyl. As you can see, if a drug dealer gets a pound of fentanyl or carfentanyl, he or she can make thousands of pills with it and still have enough left over to mix with heroin or cocaine. Because so little is needed—beyond which the risk of overdose looms—one can see how a drug dealer can more easily move the drug without being apprehended and also make a killing selling it.

Most fentanyl comes from China. Although the Chinese government has outlawed its sale, drug manufacturers can evade prosecution by making slight changes to the molecular structure of their product.

I have no doubt that most of the tent dwellers across the street from me are users of fentanyl. It’s compact. It’s cheap. And it’s deadly.

The ’Burbs

I Have This Problem with the Suburbs

There are several ways we went wrong after the Second World War. The main thing was our hubris. We thought that everything we did was right—because we were the only major country not in ruins. The government decided to help returning GIs buy little ticky-tack houses on the fringes of our major cities, and let the cities themselves go to hell. Oh, there were half-hearted attempts to build urban housing projects that quickly became dangerous slums.

And the suburbs? They were a refuge from the big cities. There was one little problem: We brought our children along to live in those ticky-tack houses, even when they didn’t buy into the dream. Being our kids, they had their own dreams, and they didn’t include barbecues and mowing the front lawn.

Interestingly, the suburbs are in some cases politically liberal, and in others utterly racist and fascistic. Even within Southern California, one can find examples of both. Take Sherman Oaks on one hand, and Moreno Valley on the other. Sometimes, suburbs start up hopeful and end up mean, such as Palmdale and Lancaster in L.A.’s Antelope Valley. At one time, the city was thinking of moving L.A. International Airport to Palmdale, which would have been a major disaster. Aside from the bad neighborhood, it’s at least a one hour drive, and usually more, from the more populated parts of the county.

One of the things about living in the city is that you have to get along with people. Across the street from me are a number of bums living in tents amid piles of assorted malodorous garbage. While I don’t ever give money to panhandlers, I don’t do anything to make their lives any more difficult. That’s not because I’m a nice guy, but because these mental cases, alcoholics, and druggies happen to be my neighbors. I maintain my distance from them, and although I casually wish their encampments were fire-bombed, I myself wouldn’t light the match.

As a city dweller, I frequently use public transportation because (1) it is cheap for me as a senior citizen and because (2) parking fees are getting out of hand. I have no problem with driving two or three times a week during the coronavirus quarantine and leaving my car parked in the rear carport. Suburbanites, on the other hand, would rather put their arms in a meat grinder rather than board a bus or light rail.

Construction/Destruction

Why Is There So Much Construction Going On in L.A.?

What with the plague raging in the streets, I continue to be surprised how much commercial and residential construction is going on. It is as if, when the coronavirus finally goes away (if it ever really goes away), there will be people to fill those new offices, apartments, and condominiums for whatever top dollar figure the owners intend to charge. There will be talk of the city insisting on affordable units, but we all know that no one wants to build affordable units. My fearless prediction is that there will be a large number of vacancies and —given that the homeless population is growing by leaps and bounds—there will be a big problem with squatters.

Mayor Gil Garcetti of Los Angeles is being either naive, or is selling out to real-estate interests—a time-honored Southern California practice. In West Los Angeles, I see scores of new buildings going up, side by side with scores of old buildings that have been red-tagged and scheduled for the wrecking ball, and, in the meantime, occupied by bums.

Another interesting point: I do not see any corresponding effort to accommodate the increased traffic flow that will result if the new building space is occupied. My feeling is that the mayor feels that the construction of the Expo Light Rail Line will solve all problems. I don’t mind taking public transportation, but I am very clearly in the minority. Most people I know think that terrible things happen on those trains. Even Martine is hesitant to ride them. Me, I have no problems.

Also, Garcetti thinks that the thousands of homeless will be delighted with the housing the city will supposedly furnish for them (by reconverting old motels, hotels, etc.). But most of the homeless are not interested in following any rules such as not drinking, taking drugs, or smearing shit all over the walls.

Interesting times lie ahead.

 

In Tents City

Things Have Changed in L.A.—And Not for the Better

When I first arrived in Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966, I saw a bright, clean city that looked bran spanking new compared to the dirty brick of Cleveland. That image has now changed: The streets of L.A. are crowded with tents, scruffy looking men (and women), and their garbage which spreads far and wide around the tents in which they sleep.

I guess it is inevitable when rents go sky high in an area which has a mild climate with only a few days of rain and real cold during the year. Some of the homeless are people like me who have been squeezed out of their homes and would like nothing so much as to return to them. But, alas, most of L.A.’s homeless are the mentally ill and druggies of various stripes, including the alcoholic.

Typical Downtown Street Scene

The homeless have taken over sidewalks and what we used to call tree lawns back east. On her walks in our relatively expensive neighborhood, Martine has come across used syringes from heroin addicts. Across the street from my apartment is a tent city consisting of between eight and twelve tents. During the hot weather, when our windows are open, we can hear profanity-laced arguments and occasionally even fisticuffs as the homeless settle scores.

Note that I have been calling all these people “the homeless.” Actually, most of them are more accurately termed bums, similar to the “sturdy beggars” of Elizabethan England. Politicians typically have not a clue as to how to return Los Angeles to its glory days. Building housing units and forcing bums to obey rules like not fighting or drinking or taking drugs won’t work. The bums regard it as an infringement of their liberties.

Lurking in the Shadows of a Great City…


Frankly, I don’t think that the bum problem will last forever. At some point, the residents of L.A. will rise up and demand real action. Only, God knows what that action eventually will be.

Garcetti-Ville

Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti

Although Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti is a Democrat, I see him as something of a failure. I take issue with him on two counts:

  • He is one of those weepy progressives who are unable to deal with the burgeoning population of the homeless because he doesn’t know how to talk about it. “Let’s build housing for the poor homeless” is no answer when most of the homeless are unable or unwilling to follow rules because it violates their independence.
  • He is a tool of the real estate interests as he embarks on a spree of building high-rise housing along the light rail lines. You can be sure that very few of those units will be reserved for the homeless.

Artist’s Rendering of High Rise Housing Project

In the end, the streets of L.A. will continue to be littered with homeless encampments and the streets will be clogged with increased automobile traffic that no one seems to be planning for. And no, most of the people who will live in these high-rise Garcetti-Villes will probably not be interested in taking public transportation to work or entertainment.

Politicians like to make common cause with real estate developers because of the myth that tax revenue will thereby increase. Far from it: The city will be stuck with older apartment structures that will be vacated to move into these new high-rent districts, turning them into largely vacant slums, while the streets will be choked with cars.

Of course, I like the new light rail lines and the subways. But then, I am not a typical Angeleno.