Homeless Camps Contrast West Coast Wealth

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by Amelia Anderson

Rising housing costs contribute to homelessness. A homeless crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the west coast. Victims are being left behind by the very things that mark the region’s success: soaring housing costs, rock bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy that waits for no one. Along the coast, politicians are scrambling for solutions.

In a park in the middle of a leafy, bohemian neighborhood where homes list for close to $1 million, a tractor’s massive claw scoops up the refuse of the homeless: mattresses, tents, a wicker chair, an outdoor propane heater. Workers in masks and steel-shanked boots pluck used needles and mounds of waste from the underbrush.

Just a day before, this corner of Ravenna Park was an illegal home for the down and out, one of 400 such encampments that have popped up in Seattle’s parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks. Now, as police and social workers approach, some of the dispossessed scurry away, vanishing into a city that is struggling to cope with an enormous wave of homelessness.

“I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. “There’s nowhere for these folks to move to. Every time we open up a new place, it fills up.”

That struggle is not Seattle’s alone. The rising numbers of homeless people have pushed abject poverty into the open like never before and have overwhelmed cities and nonprofits. The surge in people living on the street has put public health at risk, led several cities to declare states of emergency and forced cities and counties to spend millions — in some cases billions — in a search for solutions.

San Diego now scrubs its sidewalks with bleach to counter a deadly hepatitis, an outbreak that has spread to other cities and forced California to declare a state of emergency last month. In Anaheim, home to Disneyland, 400 people sleep along a bike path in the shadow of Angel Stadium. Organizers in Portland lit incense at an outdoor food festival to cover up the stench of urine in a parking lot where vendors set up shop.

Homelessness is not new on the west coast. But interviews with local officials and those who serve the homeless in California, Oregon and Washington — coupled with an Associated Press review of preliminary homeless data — confirm it’s getting worse. People who were once able to get by, even if they suffered a setback, are now pushed to the streets because housing has become so expensive.

All it takes is a prolonged illness, a lost job, a broken limb, a family crisis. What was once a blip in fortunes now seems a life sentence. “Most homeless people I know aren’t homeless because they’re addicts,” said Tammy Stephen, 54, who lives at a Seattle homeless encampment. “Most people are homeless because they can’t afford a place to live.”

This article came from in Seattle by the Associated Press. It appeared in the Traverse City Michigan Eagle on November 7, 2017. Its purpose was to generally inform the condition of the west coast. I was surprised they did not reference L.A., which harbors 50 percent of all homelessness in the United States. Despite throwing $250 million in services at the problem last year, statistics went up from 48,000 to 56,000 people on the streets, a 23% increase.

But that would be a different article and is addressed in the statement “that some cities and counties are being forced to spend — even billions — in a search for solution. The benefit from L.A.’s new voter-funded Proposition HHH to build 10,000 new units along with the County Ballot H to manage them will start to roll out with the new year. Savings are already occurring from our “Housing First” policy with medical and mental services to follow, because it saves on hospital, police and fireman emergency services.

Anyway, you can’t escape homelessness. I was surprised it’s up in the cold of Seattle and even Northern Michigan where temperatures can dip to zero. Schools now have student social workers to help with money, food vouchers and counseling and to keep tabs on attendance which is mandatory. Even in Michigan, a good sized school on the better side of town enrolls an average of 51 homeless.

Meanwhile, Pattee and the kids will continue their Family Christmas Celebration with or without funds from the STNC, where, with a little help from the Lord, Krystee Clark resigned as Scrooge President. (Don’t mess with Pattee.) And the Homeless Count is coming up January 23. It’s important because this headcount is how we get our money from Washington. And we need to increase our budget from $256 million to pay for the homeless increase.

Don’t be discouraged about the increase in stats; that’s primarily downtown L.A. We’re only up 4 percent in the San Fernando Valley because of all your work, and the fact that we have L.A. Family Housing as our lead agency for support. They are not only extremely organized and highly competent, they are innovative and probably the best 501(c)3 to lead in any of the city’s eight areas. Not only that, they came into our town five years ago to build Day Street, a $15 million managed apartment complex, they trained four homeless advocates, and they currently rent space in our city hall while rebuilding housing on Lankershim which will benefit a few of our hard-to-place homeless couples.

Don’t let the fires dampen our spirit. At least those folks carry insurance. Folks handpicked by Peggy Ryder will not run the training because she has a grandbaby and is retired. Call us if you helped before and leave your name and number: (818) 433-2148, (818) 398-6232, or (747) 218-1070. Or stop by the STNC meeting at Tujunga City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month to sign up.

We need some folks to drive. We’ll put two or three in each car and we’ll have a police presence for safety. We’ll be assigned streets to patrol and count but not the wash or Sunland Park because an LAFH Outreach Director, probably Eric Montoya, will handle those counts during the day. We will provide drinks. Oh, and be sure to wear comfortable, warm clothing.

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