Newsletter: What you ‘know’ about homelessness is wrong

Gaywanell Long, 65, who has been homeless for 35 years, uses portable facilities for homeless people in Hollywood on June 7.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, June 15, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

We’ve bungled the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles — on that much, everyone can agree. But exactly how we’ve gotten this escalating problem so horribly wrong is a matter of fierce debate, partly because affluent homeowners would rather not have a shelter open in their neighborhood, but more importantly because much of what you probably “know” the causes of homelessness is false.

As the L.A. Times’ letters editor, I’ve seen this play out in reader submissions that purport to offer “simple” solutions to this problem, namely reopening the state’s shuttered psychiatric hospitals (because we all know homeless people ended up unsheltered because of mental illness) and boosting addiction treatment programs (because we all know homeless people are drunks). Often, these two “facts” are offered as arguments against opening shelters or building housing — because unless we address these root causes first, the thinking goes, what’s the point?

Problem is, most individuals who experience homelessness don’t end up that way because of mental health issues or addiction. The crisis in Los Angeles County — where nearly 59,000 residents are homeless — is truly the product of California’s housing crisis, where wages have failed to keep up with rents rising ever higher because of inadequate supply. The L.A. Times editorial board explains in a myth-busting piece:


Go ahead, consider a “vacancy tax” — but build more affordable housing too. The city wants to study whether it should impose a fee on housing units that remain uninhabited, a policy with which Vancouver, Canada, has had success. It’s worth pursuing, if only for the benefit of City Hall knowing how many homes are vacant and why they remain so. But this should not be in lieu of building new affordable housing, says the editorial board. L.A. Times

Want to buy a home in L.A.? You’ll need to save — for 43 years. In San Francisco, it’s 40 years. When a 30-year-old decides she wants to buy a home and realizes it won’t be possible until she’s 73, California’s housing crisis starts to feel a lot like generational warfare. The Atlantic

Jon Stewart was back on TV, showing us all how outrage is supposed to work. To anyone who’s followed Stewart closely, it might not be surprising that the part-comedian, part-pundit testified to a congressional committee on guaranteed healthcare for the Sept. 11, 2001, first responders. But watching him argue with wit and righteous anger, it was hard not think, “Man, we could use a guy like Jon Stewart now.” L.A. Times


Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she’s leaving the White House. Can we believe her? She crossed the line between crass political spin — something all White House press secretaries do — and blatant lying, damaging American democracy in the process. Since Sanders and her predecessor Sean Spicer all but destroyed the press secretary position, President Trump could be forgiven for leaving the post vacant. L.A. Times

Summer camp? Send your offspring to Burning Man Camp instead. Counselors at the (satirical) Los Feliz Daycare have put together the perfect post-solstice getaway for your toddlers who, just like Burning Man attendees, love to rip off their clothes, refuse to sleep and explore their surroundings with wide-eyed wonder. L.A. Times

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