Newsletter: Essential California: How homelessness became an intractable crisis


Good morning, and welcome to a special Sunday edition of the Essential California newsletter.

Over the last several days, rain offered the Southland a respite from the dry winter the region had been experiencing. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the 58,000 people in Los Angeles County who have no roof over their head and perhaps no dry clothes to change into. The homelessness crisis here is a multifaceted conundrum with no easy solution, but its scope and scale are impossible to ignore. The Los Angeles Times has devoted significant resources to exploring how it got so bad and whether there’s a way to solve this problem.

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The Times’ Editorial Board, which is separate from the newsroom, came together to a produce a much discussed six-part series of stories about homelessness this week:

A national disgrace: It is neither desirable nor morally acceptable to blithely tolerate a level of destitution more commonly associated with Calcutta or Sao Paolo. Los Angeles Times

The economically homeless: High rents, few vacancies, stagnant incomes and a patchy government safety net — this is why Los Angeles is facing an unprecedented homeless crisis. Los Angeles Times

NIMBYism: Permanent supportive housing is our best bet for getting homeless people permanently off the streets. Los Angeles Times

The mentally ill: Treating and housing the mentally ill is harder than jailing them. But it might actually work. Los Angeles Times

Compromise: From dirty streets to wildfires to viral outbreaks, homelessness affects us all. There is no passing the buck. Los Angeles Times


Accountability: L.A. has a long history of failure on homelessness. It needs leaders who will take responsibility. Los Angeles Times


The last month has seen a series of stories about homelessness in Los Angeles and beyond. Here’s a sampling of the Los Angeles Times at its best:

How do we fix this? “What’s most alarming is that we have a growing constellation of skid rows across greater Los Angeles, from Burbank to Bel-Air and Pasadena to Pacific Palisades. Los Angeles, rich beyond dreams, is a refugee camp, its riverbeds and alleys draped in blue tarpaulin,” writes columnist Steve Lopez. “So here is my question — a question that taxpayers, merchants, sympathetic observers, disillusioned critics and the homeless themselves have every right to ask: When, if ever, will the situation get better?” Los Angeles Times

Eye-opening photos: The 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count tallied 4,545 campers and RVs in L.A. County that possibly serve as makeshift dwellings. In short, one of America’s least affordable housing market forces people to find creative alternatives for shelter. Times photographer Luis Sinco spent a year documenting the lives of people who live in these mobile homes. Los Angeles Times

History lesson: L.A.’s homelessness surged 75% in six years. Here’s why the crisis has been decades in the making. Los Angeles Times

Criminalizing homelessness? L.A. officials have denounced “criminalizing” homelessness. But as Los Angeles struggles with a growing homelessness crisis, arrests of homeless people have gone up significantly, a Times analysis of police data shows. And the most common offense was failure to appear in court for an unpaid citation. Los Angeles Times


Parking lots: A plan to make city property available for homeless housing projects is now focused almost entirely on about 120 public parking lots, most acquired by the city in the 1950s and 1960s to spur suburban commercial development. The conversions will require both architectural and political ingenuity. Los Angeles Times

Changes ahead? Two proposals would eliminate some hurdles for permanent supportive housing projects and make it easier to temporarily convert motels into homeless housing. But some critics say the supportive housing measure goes too far, depriving residents of a chance to voice concerns about projects. Los Angeles Times

The view from O.C.: In Orange County, the crisis isn’t any better, and the clearing of an encampment along the Santa Ana riverbed was an ongoing conflict. Initially the people had nowhere to go. Los Angeles Times

The judge: Meet Judge David Carter, who’s been at the center of the Orange County riverbed homeless case and is known for his unconventional, hands-on approach. Los Angeles Times

Plus: After the homeless filed an injunction in federal court, a judge demanded that Orange County officials, cities and homeless advocates collaborate to find shelter for hundreds of people who have been living in the camps. Now many of the people who had been living there have been given 30-day vouchers at motels. Los Angeles Times



Cast away: The epidemic of gay teens tossed out by their families who end up on the streets (2013). Rolling Stone.

Nothing in land of plenty: The new homeless of Silicon Valley (2015). The New Republic

Hidden city: In New York, there are more homeless, but they are more invisible (2013). The New Yorker

Helping hand: A hero for the those dying on the streets of L.A. (2017). Los Angeles Times

Transformation: From homeless to Harvard (2003). Harvard Crimson

Tough lessons: Learning to be an adult on the streets (2012). The New Yorker.


A bond: Steve Lopez, Nathaniel Ayers and “The Soloist.” (2009). “60 Minutes”

Grieving apart: The two families for a homeless woman who died on San Francisco’s Castro Street. (2016) Longform

Upstarts: Without a home but in college. (2017) California Sunday

Old school: Unlocking the decades-long mystery of Joe Gould, a homeless man with a benefactor that is a story in itself. (2014). Vanity Fair


Two lives: To many who saw her, she was homeless. But to others, she was once a much different person. New York Times.


Photos: See before-and-after photos of the Santa Ana River Trail with homeless people gone and trash cleaned up. Orange County Register

More photos: “Using a simple whiteboard and a black marker, Los Angeles Daily News photographer Hans Gutknecht asked more than 50 people struggling with homelessness and poverty across Los Angeles County to write a personal message or answer this question: “If you could say something about yourself to anybody, what would it be?” Los Angeles Daily News

A crisis in a different city: Is Seattle’s homeless crisis the worst in the country? Seattle Times

Amazing investigation: Cities have been offering homeless people free bus tickets to relocate elsewhere for at least three decades. In recent years, homeless relocation programs have become more common, sprouting up in new cities across the country and costing the public millions of dollars.” The Guardian

Valleytalk: Tackling homelessness in the heart of Silicon Valley. KQED

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Benjamin Oreskes and Shelby Grad. Also follow them on Twitter @boreskes and @shelbygrad.