Column: He handed water to homeless people when temps topped 100. Some Silver Lake neighbors jeered, others cheered
It was hot beyond reason.
Not Friday hot, when temperatures topped nuclear, but Saturday hot — 100 degrees and above.
Matthew Iadarola, a sound mixer from Silver Lake, was not intimidated. He packed water into an ice chest and went to play tennis, and he happened to pass a Los Feliz homeless encampment on the way to Vermont Canyon.
Iadarola survived his own sun-blasted Wimbledon, and when the last ball was struck, he wondered about those people he’d seen earlier.
Then he went to the store, bought 17 one-gallon jugs of water for $1 apiece and made deliveries.
“I will briefly say that I had 17 great experiences meeting and speaking with the people I encountered,” Iadarola wrote on the social media website Nextdoor.
“No one was threatening. Yes, I was nervous but that melted away once I got started. I am writing this to encourage others to hand out water, so essential for survival, during this hot summer.”
Iadarola told me he’d rather not have this story be about him. He wasn’t trying to solve homelessness on that day, nor make himself look virtuous. He simply wanted to say something about connecting with all neighbors, especially in a time of dangerously high heat, and lending a hand before making a judgment.
Silver Lake being Silver Lake, and Los Feliz being Los Feliz, the reaction — at first — was not surprising.
“Thank you for your thoughtful generosity to people in need,” Lenore wrote.
“I have been carrying water in my truck for years to hand out. The past few days have been pretty brutal, so your effort was greatly appreciated,” Catherine wrote.
“I always keep granola bars in my glove box to hand out to homeless when I stop at an intersection,” Libby wrote.
Amanda took it a step further.
“Once a month or so my husband and I let a few of the neighborhood homeless shower at our house,” she wrote.
And Jennifer said she and a friend bought 30 bottles of water at a 99-cent store and distributed them to grateful recipients.
“I feel for all of them,” she said.
That’s a lot of goodwill in an area that has maybe 100 or so of the area’s massive homeless population.
But social media is an invitation to a food fight, and across Silver Lake, the organic heirloom tomatoes soon started flying. Although most of the posts were still positive and supportive of Iadarola’s generosity, some people posted comments that turned one man’s good deed into the subject of a morality tale.
Who is homeless and why?
And even as thermometers explode and climate change threatens the spontaneous combustion of our entire state, is it appropriate — or counter-productive — to give water to a thirsty homeless person?
Shelli applauded Iadarola’s generosity and hoped she would not be thought of as coldhearted, but she wondered:
“Doesn’t this enable the homeless epidemic here?”
She went on to say that while some people “are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control,” others are not attempting to address their predicament.
Those seemed like fair observations to me, but not everyone agreed.
“Yes, you are right to assume yourself as a coldhearted person,” Yoo wrote.
Then Irene entered the fray.
The “majority of these people are here because they choose to be here,” she wrote, adding her opinion that homeless people get handouts they could use to buy water, but they buy drugs and alcohol instead.
“Offering them help is supporting their lifestyle,” she wrote. “It is as simple as that.”
Christopher conceded that long-term solutions are needed and called for residents to get more involved in finding fixes. But he also suggested to Irene that people would get water “for a DOG” suffering in the heat, so why not a human being?
“Yes, it is hot, and yes, I would offer water to a dog,” Irene shot back. “But these people are here because they CHOOSE to be here. If you offered them water or heroin, which do you think they would choose?”
Ketty noted that Irene had mentioned her church a few times, “so I’m assuming you’re a practicing Christian? I can’t help but wonder, what would Jesus do?”
“It’s really sad that a thread that started with the intention of promoting compassion has descended into an argument about whether it is enabling to give people water on a 111 degree day,” Nadia wrote. “You’re not going to solve the homeless problem on this app, and in the meantime, it would be nice if people didn’t die of heat stroke on the street.”
But Robert fired a cannon across the bow of Silver Lake’s ship of good intentions.
“And please do consider,” he sniffed, “that most of the small efforts in which virtue signalers engage make no difference, and are a gross display of swollen vanity.”
I no longer live in Silver Lake, but I’d like to jump into the conversation for a minute, and I’d like to drag Darius Derakshan in with me. He’s a Silver Lake resident, an ad salesman at The Times and a member of a coalition of two dozen or so Silver Lake area volunteers who study homelessness in the community, offer help (including water when it’s hot) and advocate for broad solutions.
That doesn’t sound like swollen vanity to me. It sounds like a combination of compassion and hard work, and you can join Derakshan’s group or study the model for what it’s doing at selahnhc.com.
“There are just not a lot of services in our area,” said Derakshan, whose volunteer army has dealt directly with many in the growing homeless population and referred some to social service agencies.
That’s not always easy to do. Those living on the street include the mentally ill, shell-shocked veterans, the priced-out poor, the addicted, predators, prey, those desperate for help and those who are resistant at least on the surface, often for very complicated reasons.
Despite recent increases in spending on services and housing, we started late and we’re way behind, and it doesn’t help when neighborhoods resist housing or assistance centers.
“The first thing we want to do is reduce human suffering,” Derakshan said.
Summer is just getting started, and there’s no telling how many more miserable heat waves are coming our way.
If you see someone in trouble out there on a scorching day, don’t think twice.
Do what Matthew Iadarola did.
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