From California They Came, Appealing to a Nation to Address Homeless Crisis

Times Staff Writer

They call doorways on opposite sides of Santa Ana’s Civic Center their home, but Pat Ford and Ruben Kronstedt were fighting more than City Hall Saturday as they trudged through the streets--they were challenging a nation.

Clutching sweaters and stroking windblown hair, the middle-aged men watched intently, occasional grins obscured by their unshaven faces and tired eyes, as impassioned chants rose around them.

Nearby, 24-year-old Stacy Brunnage, a kitchen volunteer from West Los Angeles, chatted enthusiastically with friends and co-workers about her three-day exodus to meet with congressional leaders and aides.


Works the Crowd

Only steps away, Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) stood perched near a California banner that nearly stretched the width of the street. Working the crowd as only a politician can, Bates remained distant, chatting amiably.

Ford, Kronstedt, Brunnage and Bates were among tens of thousands of Americans from different walks of life and from different parts of the country who gathered Saturday to call attention to common concerns: the crisis of homelessness and the need for affordable housing.

It was a journey that many plan to make again.

“I didn’t come here to get off the street,” Ford said. “Anyone who thinks that coming here and marching will get everyone off the street is just silly. We will have to come back and do this again and again and again.”

‘A First Step’

“It’s just a first step--a beginning,” observed Scott Mather, chairman of the California Homeless Commission. The Orange County resident said the “Housing Now!” march drew more than 1,000 participants from various activist groups in California.

“I think this shows we have built a grass-roots group that believes housing--affordable housing--is a problem in our state,” Mather said.

It is a problem, activists contend, that stretches beyond the visibly homeless living in cardboard boxes.


“The stereotypical derelicts and winos are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Wynn Landowski, who heads the Westside Shelter Coalition in Santa Monica. “Hopefully, this will help everyone notice it’s not all people on the streets. It’s working people who can’t afford rent, living in garages. It’s people living in cars who are too proud to admit they don’t have a home. . . . It’s the hidden homeless.

“Hopefully for them,” Landowski continued, “this is the second civil rights movement.”

Similar Sentiments

State and local officials expressed similar sentiments.

“Most people don’t make the connection between the homeless and affordable housing,” said Ann Reiss Lane, president of the Los Angeles Board of Fire Commissioners. “They contend that homelessness is a social problem, and housing an economic one. I don’t buy that.”

Sylvia Easton, chairwoman of the Irvine Task Force for the Homeless, said the federal government has long ignored the growing epidemic of homelessness.

“For all the talk lately about desecration of the flag being a disgrace . . . the real desecration is all these people in the streets,” said Easton, who as a child experienced the hardships of the Great Depression. “Even in the Depression, (homelessness) wasn’t this bad. I resent bitterly how there can be so much wealth and so much poverty.”

The Rev. B. O. Everett, the oldest member of an entourage of homeless and shelter volunteers from South-Central Los Angeles, agreed.

Comparison to Dog Shelters

“If this nation can build shelters to keep dogs off the street,” Everett said, “we ought to be able to get humans off the street.”

Brunnage, the West Los Angeles kitchen volunteer who is employed as a student-teacher, said homeless children are often the rule rather than the exception.

“We’re raising a generation of homeless,” she said. “They come to school tired and hungry . . . full of shame and embarrassment. Solutions to this are doable, but there is that real ‘not in my back yard’ syndrome.”

Rally participants pushed their way through the crowded streets to a temporary stage constructed near the Capitol. There they heard words of hope and encouragement from Hollywood stars and were entertained by the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Tracy Chapman, Stevie Wonder and Los Lobos.

For Now, Little Optimism

But Ford and Kronstedt, who make their home at the Santa Ana Civic Center, were not optimistic about quick improvements.

“I don’t think a lot will get done until more homeless get involved with it,” Kronstedt said. “But right now there’s too much apathy and too much fear. That will take time.”

“Yeah,” Ford said. Pointing to the Capitol building, he said: “It will take time, but we’re going to beat these people.”