This month’s column is a follow-up to last December’s subject, “Homeless for the Holidays.” I felt a follow-up was timely, not only based on the homeless impacts we are experiencing in San Pedro and across Los Angeles, but also because of the homeless population I witnessed while visiting my son, Vincent, at San Jose State. Many similarities exist, but it seemed that in San Jose, the homeless appeared to be less aggressive than what many have experienced here in Los Angeles.
Some point to the rise in homelessness to propositions like Prop 47 (2014), which reduced felonies down to misdemeanors for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes,” and believe it effectively gives shoplifters and addicts the green light to commit crimes, as long as the merchandise they steal or the drugs they have in their possession are less than $950 in value. But homelessness can result not only from drug abuse, but mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, loss of job, and the inability to pay the rent or mortgage. It is a complicated issue that will not be resolved by one idea, but rather a multitude of ideas put into tangible actions that we must seek together. Although the saying “it takes a village” is sometimes followed by actions that indicate “but not in my village,” these challenges are being met with programs and initiatives that may begin to put a dent into this crisis.
For example, the “Bridge Home” initiative launched by Mayor Garcetti is beginning to take root across Los Angeles. Councilman Buscaino recently opened the first Bridge Home Navigational Facility in our district in Watts. The center will temporarily house 100 homeless and assist them to navigate the services they need to lift them off of the streets. San Pedro and Wilmington will see similar navigation centers open in mid-2020. Also, construction is underway for a homeless storage facility to house homeless possessions up to 60 gallons. This facility is under construction between the John S. Gibson 110 north on-ramp and the Harbor Division Police Station. The main purpose of the storage facility and the navigational programs is not only to bring the much-needed services directly to help lift homeless off of the streets but to enable existing laws to be enforced toward those homeless who don’t use these services.
To counter criminalizing homelessness once the navigational centers and storage facilities are in place, one proposal that is making its way to the State Capital is by former Assemblyman Mike Gatto. Recently, Gatto submitted to the Attorney General for title and summary a ballot initiative that will radically change the state’s approach to homelessness. The initiative would treat certain existing crimes as an intervention for help for the homeless while returning respect for the law to our streets. Under the system, certain crimes, like defecating on public transportation or using heroin or meth in public, would be strictly enforced. However, a special court would be created in major counties to determine whether a person committed those crimes due to economic need, a drug dependency, or mental health issues. The court would then “sentence” the defendant to an appropriate treatment plan and connect the defendant to existing shelters and safety-net programs like general welfare, or require that the defendant participate in drug rehabilitation and treatment, or place the defendant in an appropriate mental-health hospital with access to free prescription drugs. It recognizes that many homeless people need help, but that some aspect of encouraging people to get help starts with forcing the issue. It also seeks to return respect for law and order, since many people feel there is currently a double standard for certain crimes, like indecent exposure.
In the end, we are seeing this crisis in epidemic proportions only get worse, and it will not go away without new programs and approaches such as these. It is inhumane to allow this crisis to continue, as these are fellow human beings who need help, may not know how to seek help, and need us to address this head-on. What I have outlined in this column is a great start, but we have much more to do, especially in the area of prevention. Happy Holidays, San Pedro, and may God continue to bless you. spt