SOAPBOX

LA’s homeless in crisis as buildings sit empty

Empty for five years, L.A.’s Parker Center is slated to be torn down to make way for a $700-million office tower. Activists want to see it used to shelter the homeless instead. PHOTO: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press
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The 1960s Black Civil Rights movement sparked my activism in the fight to end segregation. As I’ve aged, my outrage at Los Angeles public officials who neglect and repress homeless people — disproportionately Black and increasingly elderly — has grown. And so has my determination to help do something about it.

Mary Ann Curtis

Mary Ann Curtis

I live in Hollywood low-income senior housing, a stone’s throw from the Hollywood Walk of Fame where down-and-out people beg and eat from a garbage can outside of Starbucks. No visible help is present for them, but police are everywhere — L.A.’s longstanding bully response to poor people, especially those of color.

Nearby on Vine Street, desperate and destitute people dart into traffic. Youth on the streets lie in front of the Hollywood Mental Health Center, closed evenings and weekends. $800 million sit in Los Angeles County Mental Health Department reserve funds, earmarked to help those without a roof over their heads. Why aren’t they using this money? A 24/7 walk-in crisis center with counselors, food, bathrooms and laundry facilities would literally save lives.

Many of us are compassionate and sickened by what we witness. But being upset doesn’t help. A “Me-Too”-type rage against Hollywood and other officials for willful, criminal neglect of the homeless might get their attention. We need to build an army of warriors — individuals, community organizations and labor unions — to combat those whose policies cause displacement of working people and their families.

Over 31,000 people in Los Angeles are refugees in their own neighborhoods, thrown into the street because they cannot afford the rent. No one is immune.

It’s no secret that L.A. officials have ample resources to house many dispossessed. They simply refuse to do it. They have yet to produce a single unit of permanent supportive housing with the $1.2 billion at their disposal from a 2016 city bond measure, and a .25 percent county sales tax increase in 2017. Such housing is delayed because the City is mixing its public dollars with private developer money and ceding control of it to private interests. This bureaucratic mess wastes millions of taxpayer dollars on finance and legal fees, leaves people in the streets, and wears down public good will.

City Council members blame “not-in-my-back-yard” constituents for obstructing shelters and housing in their districts. But council members themselves can and do veto homeless housing. They also declare that vacant city properties under their jurisdiction are unsuitable. The City Controller has rightly criticized them for mismanaging their 9,000 city properties, and has urged immediate use of empty land and buildings.

Foot-dragging and misuse of public funds are blatantly displayed by the City’s refusal to repurpose city-owned vacant buildings. In City Hall’s own back yard, The Parker Center, former police headquarters and vacant for over 5 years, is just one example. Despite protests, the City decided to squander millions of dollars to demolish Parker Center and replace it with an office building.

City Hall’s priorities are boutique hotels and high-end condos — going up everywhere. Since 2005, the City Council has given $1 billion in tax breaks to developers of seven downtown hotels. Blocks from Skid Row, where thousands of people live in tents without access to public restrooms and drinking water, developers construct high-rent apartments with perhaps five percent “affordable” units. But these few are still much too expensive for poor people.

Hard-earned public money should be under public control. Use it to adapt city-owned vacant properties for immediate and long-term housing for the unsheltered. After all, investment in public housing, built, managed and run by city workers is cost-effective, because it eliminates the middlemen — profit-driven private developers.

What I’ve learned from years of marching, picketing, testifying and organizing, is that politicians move if the public makes enough racket. And there are plenty of us to do the job if we’re unified.

The Freedom Socialist Party, together with other left organizations and homeless, social justice and union activists, is waging a campaign to pressure the City to use its publicly owned properties to house those without shelter. It’s on the move and looking for more support.

To be involved, join us on Saturdays, Oct. 6 and 20, 2pm, Solidarity Hall, 2122 W. Jefferson Blvd. For more information call 323-732-6416 or write to fspla@earthlink.net.

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