Homeless in Los Angeles

Two remarkable letters to the editor appeared in your Feb. 1 edition. Written by County Supervisors Deane Dana and Michael Antonovich, they denied, in essence, that a homelessness problem exists in Los Angeles County. Dana even asserted that 100 shelter beds to empty each night in the county.

My office is located in downtown Los Angeles and I and my co-workers serve a largely homeless population. Every day we turn away homeless people for whom we cannot find emergency shelter. Consequently, the morning that the supervisors' letters appeared, I called Dana's office and identified myself. I explained that I worked with the homeless and wanted to know where the 100 empty shelter beds were located so that I could refer homeless people to them.

The woman to whom I spoke said that no one in the office knew where those beds were, and she refused to give me her last name. She then referred me to a woman (again, first name only) within the county Department of Public Social Services, who would have the answer. I called this woman, who referred me to another person. This person also did not know where there might be 100 empty shelter beds, and referred me back again to Dana's office. This experience suggests that it is Dana himself, not the advocates for the homeless, who is "insufficiently . . . informed."

Dana goes on to suggest that there are only "several hundred" homeless in the downtown area. Again, Dana appears to have insufficient information. This past Christmas season, the Tent City housed 300 homeless each night, and still had to turn people away on a daily basis. During that same period, nearly 100 additional homeless people slept within a few yards of my office each night. Many others that I saw took refuge on sidewalks, in parks, under bridges and in doorways, or huddled in the back seats of cars.

This group also included those who spend the entire night walking the streets of the city, too fearful to close their eyes in sleep. Many of these people maintain a well-scrubbed appearance so that they are not targeted as "bums" or "transients." Consequently, one would never guess that these people were homeless, unless one stoped to talk with them. Through our familiarity with this homeless population, I and my co-workers have come to realize that an estimate of "several hundred" homeless in the downtown area is simply ludicrous.

Finally, I am forced to point out that the conservative majority of the Board of Supervisors has opposed nearly every constructive measure to aid the homeless that the advocates for the homeless have proposed. Time and again we have had to resort to litigation to force the board to act upon its legal responsibility to provide decent shelter for this destitute population.

NANCY MINTIE

Los Angeles

Mintie is director of the Inner City Law Center.

Both Supervisors Dana and Antonovich take The Times to task for criticizing Los Angeles County's inaction on the "homeless" crisis.

Dana's letter starts by questioning, "Has there been a 'Shameful Fumble' in L.A. County's efforts to help the homeless as the Jan. 21 Times editorial claimed?" Dana cries "no". But even a casual perusal of his bumbling efforts since Jan. 18, 1983, indicates his ineptitude!

In the board motion that Dana authored on that date, he stated, "The numbers of the homeless has become an increasing problem . . . Existing shelters and community-based agencies inform me that they no longer have the resources to handle the growing number of homeless and displaced persons . . . I believe we can do more . . ." This motion was made and passed two years ago, but any involved Angeleno knows that practically nothing has been done during that time by the supervisors with their $6.3 billion budget.

Dana disputes the numbers of homeless people that the federal government's Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD) estimates are in Los Angeles. He never questioned HUD's statistics before, but now (possibly to justify his meager efforts) he writes, "How many homeless are there?" Quite possibly, he may believe that if new statistics show there are less homeless, then no one will be able to say that he accepted human misery in Los Angeles as just another unalterable fact of life.

But HUD unequivocally states that there are from 31,300 to 33,800 homeless persons in Los Angeles! No one's windshield survey, or police dragnet, can scientifically change that number. And no one can show where more than 4,000 to 5,000 people per day are given any kind of public or private shelter! The street sidewalks, doorways, alleys, all-night theaters, park benches and abandoned buildings are the only place where 80% of L.A.'s homeless exist.

If Dana and Antonovich are first going to start inventorying the homeless at this late date, and appoint some more committees to investigate where shelter can be found, then it's really time for them to throw in the sponge. Someone has got to get into immediate action now. Fumbling and bumbling do more harm than good.

Our homeless citizens deserve to be placed into clean shelters now. The Times is correct in telling it like it is. Our supervisors should appoint someone to get more shelters built or leased as soon as possible.

We cannot be fearful that decent care for Americans in Los Angeles will attract more homeless. There's been too much fear and talk and publicity handouts; 90% of all Angelenos want to help these unfortunate people. Why can't we get some forthright leadership and get this ball rolling?

LEONARD SHAPIRO

Granada Hills

One year ago November, we went to the supervisors requesting aid for the homeless. Dana was able to defuse our efforts by declaring that homelessness wasn't a problem in Los Angeles County and that he has a shelter in Long Beach that is never full. Since that time the United Way estimated there were approximately 25,000 homeless in Dana's county and the federal government estimated 31,000 to 34,000.

As for the shelter that's never full, Dana neglected to mention that the reason it was never full was the fact that it was under-budgeted and the staff could not afford to allow any more homeless people into the shelter! Neither did Dana mention that the shelter was just for women and children, that the men who sleep in the bushes outside his office were not welcome.

In his letter Dana also states that the county is providing 2,500 voucher beds each night for the homeless, but he failed to mention that the only reason the county is doing that is because it was forced to through lawsuits.

Dana stated that the county is going to try to help the homeless get on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). We were in the board meeting when this subject was discussed. The only attractive feature of the project to Dana and his fellow conservatives was the fact that it will ultimately save the county money. To imply that Dana or the other Republicans supported the project out of a genuine concern for the mentally ill/disabled homeless is once again to mislead the public.

ROLF MAYER

HARRY RODGERS

MATT LYONS

Los Angeles

Mayer, Rodgers and Lyons are members of the Homeless Organizing Team.

"Let the churches take care of the homeless."

That is philosophy of Supervisor Antonovich. In his letter, he wrote, "Billy Graham has said that if every church and synagogue in the land took in 10 poor families, the welfare problem would no longer exist."

This, after saying that "It is estimated that as many as half of the homeless are in need of mental health services." Supervisor Antonovich must know how much it costs to "take in" a poverty family, so therefore he doesn't understand the facilities or the resources of an ordinary church. Housing 10 families would cost as much as the facilities of the average church, and maintaining a family at poverty level would consume the total annual budget of most ordinary churches.

HARRY L. JUREY

Canoga Park

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