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Inside LA's struggle to address its unhoused crisis47:01
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FILE - People ride their bikes past a homeless encampment set up along the boardwalk in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles on June 29, 2021. California's governor proposed a plan on Thursday, March 3, 2022, to force homeless people with severe mental health and addiction disorders into treatment.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
FILE - People ride their bikes past a homeless encampment set up along the boardwalk in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles on June 29, 2021. California's governor proposed a plan on Thursday, March 3, 2022, to force homeless people with severe mental health and addiction disorders into treatment. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

It’s estimated that more than 60,000 people live on the streets and in the parks of Los Angeles.

Or put another way – 20% of all unhoused Americans – are in LA.

"We have too many people becoming homeless. We have a system that is funded with not enough resources to serve everybody who needs to be served, and we don't have enough housing to move them into."

The unhoused are suffering, and their numbers are growing.

"My kids started understanding that it wasn't just our problem, a lot of people were going through, this is, this is kind of the times right now."

But solutions are not simple. And tempers are flaring.

Today, On Point: Can the city find a way to house everyone who calls LA home?

Guests

Heidi Marston, former executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. (@heidimarstonLA)

Rachel Estrada, director of peer advocacy at Haaven, a shared accommodation provider in Los Angeles.

Also Featured

Theo Henderson, an Angeleno who has experienced homelessness. Host of the We The Unhoused podcast. Activist-in-residence at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA. (@TheoHen95302259)

Related Reading

Medium: "The Homelessness Crisis: A Monster of Our Own Making" — "Homelessness is a scar on the face of our nation. More than half a million Americans don’t have a home."

Transcript: Theo Henderson on Where Solving the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles Begins

Kimberly Atkins Stohr: Theo Henderson is an Angeleno who has himself experienced homelessness. While living on the streets, he started producing a podcast called We the Unhoused. It caught the attention of many in the community and in L.A. more widely. So much so that he has been made activist-in-residence at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. To him, solving the crisis begins with the housed community understanding that unhoused people are not on the streets by choice.

Theo Henderson: So, what the housed community gets completely wrong is the idea that ... a group of population don't want to get services, that it's their fault that they're out there. They are the dreads of society. They are the ones that are on substances. They are ones that have mental health calamities. And that's the beginning, and that's the end of the story.

And the reality is: It is personal responsibility. It's responsibility for us as a society to create a system that is not a blaming, shaming society. And when we do that, then we can understand human condition and human frailties.

Atkins Stohr: That understanding is crucial, Henderson argues, because right now housed Angelenos are approaching the crisis in a way that is both cruel and ineffective.

Henderson: Honestly, most housed people want this thing to go away. They don't — They're tired of it. They don't want to see it. They don't want — they don't want to have any empathy. They just don't want it in their neighborhood. Get it away, put them in jail. ... That is their solution. Any time you try to put it in human empathy to it, they don't have it. And I don't, I dare say, they will never have it.

Atkins Stohr: The current election campaign is reinforcing his pessimism. While many candidates have made heartfelt commitments to improving the lives of the unhoused, Henderson says he's been deeply unimpressed with the policy stances taken by those candidates seen as being sympathetic to the unhoused.

Henderson: Recently, I went to one of the town halls, and I asked them, "what would they do to dismantle business improvement districts that target unhoused people, mostly brown and black, and the mechanisms of the community that created this?" I won't say who the progressive politician was, but her answer was that she just — she's not okay with it, but she will listen to the community. So when she said that, she said nothing but other things.

Atkins Stohr: The only hope, Henderson says, is a dark one, that perhaps as the cost of living rises, more and more housed Angelenos will find themselves or their friends at risk of becoming unhoused. At which point, he thinks there could be a sea change in the way the city views the issue.

Henderson: So, for some reason it's resonated with the vulnerable people more so than the housed people. And I think that's when — that's what's going to happen when more and more housed people get this starting to affect them. They are having more of the agency that they need to push back against violence. ... I think there's going to be change. It's going to be uncomfortable change. It's going to be ugly change because housed people are going to finally admit, like, "Look, we caused all these problems. Maybe it's time for us to shut up and sit down and just watch how we can undo this," and basically support people wanting this thing to be uprooted.

Atkins Stohr: That's Theo Henderson, host of the podcast We the Unhoused and activist in residence at the Institute on Equality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

This program aired on May 26, 2022.

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Kimberly Atkins is a senior opinion writer and columnist for Boston Globe Opinion. She's also a frequent guest host for On Point. She formerly was a senior news correspondent for WBUR.

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