Opinion

Most people think they could never be homeless. That's why the problem is so hard to fix.

To the editor: Warren Olney posed a thought-provoking question on Christmas Day: If homeless people make us feel unsafe, what are we really afraid of? (“The cowardly way L.A. perceives its homeless only makes it harder to get them help,” Opinion, Dec. 25.)

Most people think of themselves as being in control. Of course, the opposite is true, and the recent wildfires — which rendered many people homeless — bear witness to that.

We seek to accumulate wealth, property and power. These are our safeguards. They keep us in control. The woman lying unconscious in the street, the presence of low-cost housing in our neighborhoods — those things threaten our control. They remind us that we could be like that — that we could become losers of our control, our property, our possessions, and end up in that street.

Those reminders impinge on our feelings of safety, and we prefer not to have them close by.

How different it could be if we used our feelings of power and control to support efforts like the ongoing taxpayer-funded initiative to build more affordable housing and shelter for homeless people. Perhaps putting aside our own personal prerogatives and instead working toward the construction of housing for the homeless could make us all feel safer — because we faced the challenge and made it our own.

Karen Scott Browdy, Fillmore

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To the editor: Why, Olney asks, do we fear the destitute? Here’s one answer to consider, and it may lie at the heart of the problem: We are afraid to discover that homelessness is, ultimately, on us.

We fear the destitute because by their mere existence they remind us that our attainment is not the result of individual effort, but rather access to individual privileges. This makes us a little squeamish because at some cellular level we all know we receive inestimably more from the world around us than we contribute to it.

Homelessness persists because when we protect our attainments with an army of rationalizations and tout ancient dogmas like “free will,” we are insulated from real discernment, or engagement, or responsibility. The proverbial ladder of success, we say, must have a bottom rung. In an instant we make hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens invisible each night.

I just thought Olney deserved an honest answer.

David DiLeo, San Clemente

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To the editor: Asking why we fear the destitute, Olney gives the example of a person who called for help to report a woman passed out on the street next to an open bottle. The person who called for help complained of feeling “unsafe.”

Olney cherry-picks his outrage. A while ago, walking on Vine Street, I saw a man ranting and making striking motions in the air. In his belt was a nasty looking claw hammer. In a separate incident, an acquaintance of mine entered her house from the back to find a homeless woman, known in the neighborhood for her aggressive attitude, ranting in her living room.

“Bad Elmo” (really, Google him) shouts anti-Semetic rants at people sitting in a cafe, threatening perceived “Jews,” scaring children (and adults) and hurting the business of people struggling to make a living.

A cooking fire at a homeless encampment near the 405 Freeway is believed to have started the Skirball fire.

That’s only the beginning of why even some compassionate people fear the “destitute.”

David Goodwin, Pasadena

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