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.

“The Great Task in Life”

In California, the Realty Interests Are in Charge

To misquote Iris Murdoch, “We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find realty.” After all, if you have enough money to start with, it’s not terribly difficult to become a millionaire, requires minimal brains. Just invest in real estate. It worked for Trump (if you really believe he’s a billionaire). It can work for you. All it requires is a lack of moral compass: You too can live in a McMansion at the edge of a golf course. Isn’t that what life is all about?

Right now, California politicians are highly disturbed about the increasing rate of homelessness. Of course, they think that the solution is to find housing for all the homeless. Never mind that most L.A. homeless would prefer to live in a tent set up under a bridge, where they can enjoy their heroine and crystal meth without being hassled by John Law. And that doesn’t include the 25-50% who are just plain out of their heads and wouldn’t understand what you are talking about.

The word is out that there are not enough housing units. Then there was an interesting front page article in the Los Angeles Times a couple days ago to the effect that there are approximately 110,000 housing units that are theoretically up for rent, but not really.

The reason is the convenience to landowners of the law governing taxation of housing units. One is taxed not on the gross amount one makes, but on the profit one makes. If too many units are being profitably rented, the best way to lower your taxes is to net the rented units with units that are being deliberately kept off the market. That way, the profit is minimized—or even wiped out—and the NOL (Net Operating Loss) is subtracted from the total income.

From my years in accounting, I have seen dozens of filthy rich landowners living the life of Riley while paying zero taxes. That also is a trick employed by our Presidente.

 

Talking About Homelessness

Most Discussions About Homelessness Are Too Vague

As an independent (no party) voter, I am dismayed by the way most liberals view the homeless. For one thing, I refuse to take a bleeding heart view of the hobo encampments that are spreading across American cities, particularly in the West. When I think of the homeless, I have three populations in mind, with a lot of overlap among the categories:

  1. People who, for various reasons, are homeless
  2. People who are addicted to various drugs such as alcohol, heroine, cocaine, and crystal meth.
  3. People who are mentally ill.

The Venn Diagram above shows that there are many overlaps. Some of the homeless have some hope and expectation of finding a place to live. These are mostly homeless who are not addicted to drugs or mentally ill. These constitute the majority of homeless who are living in organized shelters.

Wherever drug addiction and mental illness are involved, it is much more difficult to find shelter. These shelters have rules regarding drugs, alcohol, theft, and violence. Many of the bums in Los Angeles would not be likely to live in a shelter, if only because they have no intention of following the rules.

If you have about an hour to spare, I recommend you watch this video by news station KOMO entitled “Seattle is Dying,” which takes a no-holds-barred view of the dire homeless situation in Seattle:

 

Talking About the Homeless

Homeless Encampment in Los Angeles

There are several ways of talking about the homeless. For one thing, I do not think they can be all lumped into one category. Therefore, I rarely speak about “the homeless” as a whole. Some are temporarily without an address and have some reasonable hope of finding one, especially if they are a family. One does not usually encounter these transient homeless on the streets. More likely, one runs into a mostly male population of homeless that fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • The mentally ill, estimated by the City of Los Angeles to comprise some 40% of the total.
  • Veterans of the armed forces who were unable to make the transition to civilian life. As I live within a couple miles of a large Veterans Administration hospital, I see quite a few of these.
  • Hardcore bums who like living on the street and are unwilling to have any of their perceived rights and privileges abridged. Some of these are involved in drug dealing and theft.

There is a tent encampment right across the street from my apartment consisting of some ten hardcore bums. They usually do not bother the street residents unless to steal a bicycle or small grill, or to beg for cash. Since there are a number of charities that provide meals, I almost never give cash to a street person. Cash received by the hardcore homeless usually falls in the category of CBD money: in other words, for cigarettes, booze, and drugs.

I have seen a few hardcore female bums, mostly on the bus, and usually find them to be sad cases, frequently mentally ill and fiercely unapproachable. Martine saw one of them defecate on the sidewalk of our street in the open. Seeing Martine’s facial reaction, she called her a racist.

Given the variety of motives that moves this population, I shake my head in despair when journalists persist in talking about “the homeless” as if there were a single solution for all. There just isn’t.

 

Bumlandia

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Calcutta

Whether you call them by the term bums or the more forgiving “the homeless,” the streets of Southern California are filling up with raggedy men (and some women) who are living off the streets, They like to position themselves near markets and convenience stores and ask for the inevitable “spare change.” Across the street from where I live, there are several more-or-less permanent tents where several bums (yeah, these guys are properly called bums) spend the night, howling at the moon.

There are food distribution programs that cater to L.A.’s street people, but they still beg for spare change. My theory is that the money they get is strictly for CBD—cigarettes, booze, and drugs. At least one of the bums across the street is a drug dealer: He has two cars parked on the curb and is frequently seen talking on a burn cellphone.

I am somewhat torn. I like the idea of helping the true homeless—those who have some chance of getting out of their present dire situation—but I absolutely refuse to help bums. It’s like putting out a cockroach feeder. I support the Salvation Army and several other charities that help the homeless, but I would prefer that the bums move on elsewhere. I can hear them all night swearing loudly at each other and sometimes fighting in he street. Every once in a while, the LAPD stops and asks them to move on, but they cannot force them unless there is a clear violation of the law.

In nearby Santa Monica, bums are not allowed to set up tents and sleep on the pavement; but Los Angeles has always been a bit more forgiving. In the meantime, there are breakins to the apartment laundry rooms where the perpetrators are searching for quarters. A neighbor’s bicycle was stolen; and other small crimes of the typr that did not happen until the bum encampment was set up.

Pilgrims

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

The title of this post comes from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness:

I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence.

Except, the pilgrims of whom I speak are not European ivory traders in the Congo, but either the homeless or people who do not wish to be labelled “homeless,” so they merely appear to be “in transit” with multiple bags.

Now that I work only two days a week, I like to spend more time in libraries, specifically downtown L.A.’s Central Library or Santa Monica’s Main Library. Curiously I see more pilgrims in Santa Monica, which comic Harry Shearer has dubbed “the Home of the Homeless.” Most are young, approximately half are black, and they travel with a lot of “stuff.” Usually, they just drop into a chair and doze off. Some use the Internet to try to find a way out of their present circumstances.

The library discourages homeless that smell very bad or have too many bags with them, as they inhibit families and students from using the books and computers. That tends to discriminate against elderly bums who have lived on the streets for years and and who have accumulated a vast store of “stuff.” (I have seen some with regular choo-choo trains of multiple supermarket carts.)

At night, Palisades Park along the bluffs overlooking the Coast Highway turns into a large encampment full of tents, shopping carts, plastic bags full of rags and food scraps, and whatnot.

There are Salvation Army and other accommodations in Santa Monica for the homeless, but I suspect not enough. And many of the homeless, as I hinted, are “in transit” and do not consider themselves to be homeless. A goodly number are stark raving mad, and a couple are probably homicides or arsons waiting to happen.