HOMELESSNESS IS AS OLD as Los Angeles. Since The Times began publishing in 1881, it has been filled with editorials and opinion articles about those we have called, at various times, vagrants, hobos, tramps, transients and drifters. Over the years, though, the views of the paper have shifted dramatically — with the changing times and with the changing Times.
In the paper’s earliest days, its attitude toward homeless “vagrants” who were not seeking honest work was that they should be arrested, charged and put to work breaking stones.
In a Sept. 30, 1882, article entitled “An Influx of Vagrants” The Times demanded that Angelenos who encounter the homeless not “feed the worthless chaps. It only encourages them in their idleness and viciousness.”
In a Feb. 13, 1885, article entitled "What are vagrants?” the paper applauded an L.A. city ordinance which declared that “every healthy beggar who solicits alms as a business … is a vagrant and punishable by imprisonment in the city jail. … The person so sentenced shall perform labor in the chain-gang of said city.”
On Nov. 5, 1936, The Times lauded police for preventing “the winter invasion of hobos and undesirables” from establishing themselves in Los Angeles, in a piece entitled "Southland on Guard."
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial series
The Times editorial board published a 10-part series arguing, in part, that the civil liberties of mentally ill people living on the streets might have to be sacrificed for their own good. It won the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing.
Read more from The Times’ 2002 Pulitzer-winning series here.
The current crisis
Today, the editorial board finds itself wrestling with many of the exact same issues, including how to balance the rights of the homeless with the needs of the city.
Homelessness is the most challenging and corrosive issue to face Los Angeles since gang warfare.”