Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"A sea of misery"

In front of the Los Angeles Athletic Club
     My wife and I were walking across Pershing Square, a public space in Los Angeles which, like many parks and open areas here, has been occupied by the homeless.  She said she wasn't comfortable navigating this "sea of misery" and I didn't argue.  
     All things being equal, I would have preferred to stay by the ocean.
     But while planning the trip, my wife observed that we had stayed at Venice Beach a scant five years ago, plus a few days at Virginia Beach last summer, so we were practically soggy with ocean spray. I almost pointed out that half a decade is actually a longish time, and Virginia Beach was a different ocean -- facing right, at the Atlantic, instead of left, at the Pacific. But blue is blue, the salt water taffy's the same, I get that, and as she rightly points out, we are not beach people, though we are not step over the bodies on the way to the swish restaurant people either, which might make us oddities.
    The beach has its homeless people too. But not like this, to my memory.
Bradbury Building
      Like everyone else, we ignored them best we could. Our two days in Los Angeles were spent in the historic district, which, she is correct, is jammed with interesting Deco buildings that I did indeed enjoy, plus even earlier architectural marvels, such as the very Daniel Burnham-ish Bradbury Building, with its ornate ironwork, where key parts of "Blade Runner" were shot. There is a dynamic Central Market filled with food stores and eateries, the kind of vibrant place that Chicago's French Market tries and fails to be.
     We put in a lot of miles up and down Broadway—lots of Hispanic bridal and quinceanera stores, shop keepers who naturally hailed passersby in Spanish, stores buying gold to make into horrendous gold jewelry, apparently, a thriving business in phone cards and Disney towels and odd brand boom boxes.
     The place struck me as New York City in the 1970s, before gentrification took over. That's not praise, but a criticism. There were more homeless people per square foot than I've ever seen in New York, and we didn't even approach Skid Row-- I was all for marching over to personally inspect the armies of the homeless camped there, but my brother-in-law, who lives in the historic Eastern Columbia Building, assured me that was a Bad Idea. I only took one photo—the one above, as we were parking to check into the Athletic Club—but I could have taken 50 of the men scattered about, like corpses in a Matthew Brady photo of a Civil War battlefield, sprawled where they fell, eyes half crescents of white. But taking photos of them unconscious, in such a state of humiliatingly public abject ruin, seemed wrong, a final insult, and I felt so conflicted doing it once that I never could take another.
    About 10 percent of all the homeless in the nation live in Los Angeles County--more than 50,000 people, though the count is disputed. That contrasts to about 7,000 people homeless on a cold night in Chicago. The Los Angeles Times carried a story about advocates trying to change the laws so the homeless can more comfortably go about their business in public; my sympathies tend to be with the public, who deserve to have parks and benches for their use, too.
    The received wisdom about the homeless is that they are you or I without a paycheck or two, but the truth, with the Los Angeles homeless, is more they are you or I after being deprived of the anti-psychotic medicines we need for the next 10 years while being marinated in multiple addictions and some organic mental disorders tossed in for good measure. Seriously crazy people, too far gone to even beg effectively, snarling and staggering and sprawling everywhere. The narrowing of the middle class is much remarked on, but another result of the Republican War on Government is the hollowing out of social services, the results of which are only too clear here in Los Angeles. A humane society would treat its mentally ill; not being that society, we step around them while averting our eyes instead


  1. Replies
    1. And I think the guy is playing Candy Crush in the top pic

  2. The last time I was in LA, maybe 4 years ago, I couldn't believe the numbers of homeless people just sprawled all over the sidewalks all day long.
    But those failed government policies go much farther back, to the deinstitutionalizing of the mentally ill in the 1960s.
    I always though Uptown here was bad, until I went to LA.

  3. give them homes and money.

  4. "give them homes and money"

    But cut government spending and don't raise my taxes, of course.

    The homeless and mentally ill will get their basic housing and treatment when our society stops being too selfish to care, which will happen approximately ... never.

  5. It seems that our compassionate liberal attempts to ameliorate the homeless situation, at least insofar as to decrease the number literally sleeping in the streets, have been unsuccessful. So I ask, "What would a truly right-wing government do?" Locking them up would be expensive, drafting them into some sort of army awkward, putting them to work unproductive, chasing them out of town limited. It would probably come down to rounding them up and shooting those who refused to work. Fortunately, we haven't sunk that far...yet.

  6. All of the worlds most serious and intractable problems can be ultimately traced to one thing: too many people! If each birth was the result of careful preparation for that individuals best possible outcome with regard to meeting all basic needs and maximum nurturing, challenging and enrichment appropriate to his/her unique makeup.....sigh, it will never happen, will it?

  7. Well said, Mr. S.
    I hope you are widely quoted on this topic.

  8. Agree with one of the comments above. The worse mistake was deinstitionalization. ANd yes, too much govt funding cut for the mentally ill. But some of them really are ones who are lazy and don't want to work or follow social workers who check on them to rehab places, to stop drugs or drink. And the women will prob turn to prost. when can and fare worse.

    In a different vein, Sir, a shame when columnists are absent, it will say in the paper this or that columnist is taking the day off or on vacation, etc. Do most big city papers do that? Is it anyone else's business??

  9. Is that brother in law as in your wife's bro or a sister's hub?

  10. be sure you don't get mugged, some of these are thieves and criminals too

    bleeding heart lib, isn't the answer to some above

  11. Why would we give a cent to the homeless of L.A. when there are 50,000 innocent children in Africa starving to death every day? Why not give them a chance at life rather than someone well into life who may well can't be helped anyway? Why not help those violence-plagued El Salvador kids Mr. Steinberg posted about the other day (either ourselves or with increased foreign aid)? Why not put any government resources to increasing aid to the homeless into poor U.S. youth's futures?

    Here are some answers to that question. First, that we show a preference for our own citizens. Mr. Steinberg hints at this by critiquing the Republican cuts in soclal services. Of course, when you show him data on how illegal immigration hurts poor people he makes ridiculous analogies to zero-immigration Japan, but whatever.

    That still leaves the question of why not target resources to the young rather than the kinds of intractable homeless Mr. Steinberg writes about here. I can come up with two reasons. First is "there but for the grace of God go I." Matthew 25, for those who believe, make it pretty gosh durn tough to ignore a homeless beggar (less you go to eternal damnation at Jesus' direction). But beyond that is something I learned from a professor: there would be a "peculiar sort of horror" to know that there are problems in the world that nobody is doing anything about. We need to devote at least some attention to serious problems.

  12. I've always wondered if the homeless in those locales are longer term citizens that just lost all they had (for various reasons) or if they migrated there from colder/less hospitable places? I was in Santa Barbara a few years ago and the #'s there were pretty staggering as well. They hung out in the park by the beach, not really bothering anyone, but the locals all warned us to stay away from them. I must say, it was certainly a nice place to be, if you didn't have any place to be.


  13. Why are snobbish, NYT writers praised here?

  14. anon not anon, We are only enabling said governments of these foreign lands to continue to do nothing for their people or for the people not to revolt cause we are giving handouts.

  15. Then maybe the religions $ traditions of these other places have to change so that women are allowed to use and can buy birth control. Does their govt do anything? Yet, we are to be drained??? What about our starving kids in the city?

  16. (above meant religious and cultural traditions-get in way)

  17. If you saw the sight of Melania leading the Our Father at the "rally" on Sat., it was too funny. We watch the news for comedy sometimes these days, though it really isn't funny.


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