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:
- People who, for various reasons, are homeless
- People who are addicted to various drugs such as alcohol, heroine, cocaine, and crystal meth.
- 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:
Martine at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo
This morning, as I was watching the movie Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), the doorbell rang. I thought, “Who could that be? Is it the Jehovah’s Witnesses? LDS Missionaries?” I opened the door to find Martine with her suitcase. She had taken buses from South Central LA to Union Station, and from there the 704 bus, which drops her off two short blocks from home.
Martine had stayed at a women’s shelter run of Volunteers of America near Broadway and West 88th Street, in the heart of South Central. The facility contained some forty bunk beds on each of two floors, sleeping some one hundred sixty women. Martine, who is by no means a sound sleeper, had three nights of no sleep on a mattress that was too soft for her bad back. She had no complaints about the way she was treated or the food that was served, but she could not tolerate another sleepless night. Fortunately, I had purchased for her a senior TAP card with a few dollars of stored value which enabled her to take buses at a discount without having to worry about exact change, so she could take a bus virtually anywhere in the county at will.
During her absence, I was less worried about her because I knew she was being well cared for. Plus she called me three times during her three day sojourn at the center, though I was not able to call her. I suspect that most of the women at the shelter were there because they had been abused by husbands and boyfriends. How were the receptionists to know that I was not an abuser?
Martine’s “escapes” are a symptom of her depression. All I can do is demonstrate to her that I continue to love her and that she can trust me. In all her actions, there is no sign of enmity or exasperation with me. As she stood at my doorstep with her luggage, there was a big smile on her face. I can accept that.
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.
Title Shot of Val Lewton’s Bedlam (1946)
Originally, it was called Bethlem Royal Hospital or St. Mary Bethlehem. Over the years, the British mental hospital has moved from Bishopsgate to Moorfields to Southwark, where it is now, a reputable institution associated with Kings College London. From its period of notoriety in the 18th century, where the glitterati paid admission to see loonies chained to the wall, it was better known as Bedlam.
There is a wonderful Val Lewton film of the same name, starring Boris Karloff, that was released by RKO in 1946 (see above). In it, a sane young woman is forcibly admitted to the insane asylum when she refuses to odious attentions of a powerful rake. Like almost of all of the Lewton films I have seen, it is a delight. It includes a rebellion of the inmates against the infamous Boris Karloff, who plays the head physician at Bedlam.
Lobby Card for Val Lewton’s Bedlam
The reason that Bedlam the movie comes to mind is my realization that we have little progressed from those bad old eighteenth century days when the mentally ill were mistreated for the amusement of visitors. Now, things are almost worse. Ever since the 1980s, the mentally ill have been on their own.When they receive any attention at all, it is usually by the police and prison guards. Instead of getting the medication that helps keep them on an even keel, the mentally ill are mistreated by guards who punish them for their non-normative behavior.
Recently, several Orange County, California police beat up and killed a mental patient named Kelly Thomas who was living on the street. In their various police academies, the police are trained to deal with malefactors, and not with persons who have a tenuous grip on reality. The police were tried and acquitted by an Orange County jury.
The outlook for the mentally ill who are loose on the streets is not a good one. Perhaps even the old Bedlam would have been an improvement.