Walking out of school one day, heartbreak overcame me, as I noticed a lonely, middle-aged homeless woman lying on the street. To witness a daily degradation of somebody’s life defeats our humanity, a thread by which we live and thrive off of each day. After a few weeks of weighing potential options to effectively help this woman, I contacted the City of Los Angeles. And the series of phone calls that ensued that afternoon arguably characterize the state of domestic affairs and homelessness in Los Angeles.
After my call to Los Angeles Councilman Bob Blumenfield’s office, I was told that I needed to contact the city’s ‘Homeless Mobile Triage Team’, a unit tasked to reach out to homeless “clients” and inquire about their need for shelter. However, it seemed to me that after I had told the phone operator of the triage team that the woman did not seem mentally incapacitated — at least visually — the legal sense of urgency to help this woman vanished.
The problem of Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis doesn’t just reside within Skid Row: a marred street in the heart of downtown Los Angeles which is known for its decades-old homelessness community – for this was happening right in the family-filled Woodland Hills suburb of Los Angeles.
Communities like Los Angeles’ well-known San Fernando Valley have also struggled to keep people off the streets and in sheltered facilities, with towns such as Encino and Bel Air experiencing a 27 percent uptick in homeless individuals, according to a January 2017 count by the Los Angeles County Homeless Authority. The same year, city officials blamed a shortage of affordable housing as the county’s homeless population rose by 23 percent – a significant number for what is considered to be a booming, cosmopolitan metropolis.
And speaking of the grandness of the city, Los Angeles has one of the lowest rates of sheltering homeless individuals, compared to cities like New York and Salt Lake City, according to a 2016 U.S. Housing and Urban Development report. In retrospect, the woman on the phone did inform me that it would take 2-5 business days for the triage team to arrive at the location, search, and attempt to assist the “Jane Doe.” And even if the woman had agreed to be sheltered – a human rights rule in the center of much criticism – it would take ‘up to a year’ for her to actually be taken in to a housing facility, where, according to a member of the triage team, she would be waiting on the streets for somebody to pick her up until then. For a city like New York, however, their homelessness service takes “up to an hour” to arrive at a reported location, and the homeless individual would be placed in some kind of shelter within days, according to a New York 311 operator contacted by Forthwrite Magazine. Some have said that the swiftness of New York’s service is correlated to the harsh weather that swarms the East Coast every winter, but if that rationale is congruent to the reality of the program, that alone speaks volumes.
With this being said, the crisis boils down to a single question: How will Los Angeles officials choose to handle a problem that is on track to become a defining issue for the city as a whole?
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti calls homelessness the “humanitarian crisis of our time.” But even as his office echoes the concern, some say that passed ordinance Measure H, a county-funded $355 billion initiative funding homeless “services,” isn’t effective in combating unaffordable housing and mental illness that is often seen in homeless people – at least at the current time. But even if this legislation or Proposition HHH, a local property tax designed to fund housing programs, alleviates the shortage of living spaces in Los Angeles, the city may still be far from truly ramping up the game when it comes to the issue. This can be directly attributed to the “human rights” regulations that bar officials from forcefully convincing homeless individuals to live in an enclosed space. This is why the “Jane Doe” that I reported those weeks ago, is still residing on Ventura Blvd. Much to my surprise, and perhaps my naivety, she rejected any and all help from the city, meaning that she will remain on that Woodland Hills corner until someone decides to report her again, due to the city’s “human rights” rule.
With mental illness, substance abuse, and a housing affordability crisis in Los Angeles, City officials are now charged with a task that some argue is a consequential moment for a city, whose prospects are set on economic success and a proliferation of humanitarian well-being.