[Hpn] Homelessness chosen? Ted Hayes of LA Dome Village opines. Your view? view?

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sat, 2 Dec 2000 23:04:39 -0800 (PST)

[Otherwise your reply goes "offlist" & only to the person to whom you reply] Do most homeless people simply "choose" to be homeless? If so, what and who "chooses our available choices"? I invite your answers, plus your opinions on the related Usenet article below: FWD found 30 Nov 2000 describes homelessness as a "lifestyle choice": HONEST TALK THIS PROBLEM DEMANDS NOTHING LESS By Jill Stewart With Thanksgiving here and a crisp chill in the air, my thoughts turn to Los Angeles' estimated 200,000 homeless. But my thoughts are not in step with the usual theories and feelings about the homeless that polite society finds acceptable. The seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in this and every other American city was supposed to ease up during this historic economic boom. But nothing has changed; if anything, the homeless problem has grown. It doesn't matter how many celebrities show up during the holidays to serve soup, or how many nonprofit, single-room-occupancy hotels get funded by the state and city, or how many hundreds of new drug treatment centers open because of the passage of Proposition 35. It doesn't even matter that employers are begging able-bodied people to take the thousands of unfilled jobs in L.A. Just as I predicted several months ago, the 4.5 percent unemployment rate and the extreme shortage of workers is having no measurable effect on the city's mass population of homeless. It's time to shake off the middle-class guilt and talk about why. Yet I know of only a handful of people knowledgeable on this subject who are willing to honestly and publicly say why. In city hall, the most powerful people who understand the homeless problem will talk about why it has been impossible to make a dent, but only off the record. It is, one city hall elected leader told me, "seen as horribly uncharitable and politically disastrous to discuss the truth." And the truth is that the homeless, to a very large degree, simply do not want to reenter mainstream society. Virtually every homeless program on Skid Row and in Santa Monica, and virtually every homeless program funded by Los Angeles County, was designed by middle-class people with middle-class values. Underpinning virtually every one of these programs is the belief that the homeless want what the middle-class has: nine-to-five jobs, tax returns, a mortgage. Every program designed with mainstreaming in mind is attempting to serve a category of homeless people who I believe make up only a tiny slice of the actual homeless population. A significant number of the homeless reject the nine-to-five world, and the current economic boom has proved this with painful clarity. Another city hall leader who gets it, but can't say it publicly for fear of being attacked as a heartless bastard, says: "I look at the homeless now, after all the years of efforts and all the programs that have come and gone, and I can almost see them laughing at the suits hurrying to their jobs. There is a defiance that is hard to understand, and maybe impossible to address. The bottom line is, many of them are choosing homelessness." God, what a heartless bastard! Ted Hayes, the director of the Dome Village homeless encampment two blocks from the Staples Center downtown, is reviled by many homeless advocates -- white, middle-class people for the most part -- because he insists on straight talk about the homeless, and it is not a pretty thing to hear. "People focus a lot of attention on the so-called mentally ill and pour a lot of mercy onto them," says Hayes. "But those supposedly one-third of the homeless are the easiest to reach with programs and can be the most easily manipulated into being helped. The problem is the other two- thirds, and honestly I believe the figure is much higher than two- thirds, who do not want to get a nine-to-five job, and they do not want the burden of paying rent and utilities." The fact that many of the homeless do not want to drop back into society is an ugly secret the homeless services industry will never cop to because it would put a major crimp in their fund-raising efforts, which are built upon a foundation of middle-class guilt. The media is equally complicit in hammering guilt into all of us and choking off serious debate. Journalists rarely quote the homeless who are not desperate to get their old lives back. That's not the story they have been trained to find. Among the roughly 200,000 homeless in Los Angeles, it is not hard to find a quotable soul who says all the right things about being homeless. And find them, reporters always do. Check your local newspaper this week, and there will be a sad story about a man with incredibly bad luck, out on the streets, spiraling into alcoholism or addiction, desperate to get back to his middle-class or working-class reality. But why are there tens of thousands of people, mostly men, huddled in cardboard boxes while employers in L.A. County go begging for unskilled workers to fill long-open jobs? Jack Kyser, of the Economic Development Corporation, which tracks economic indicators in the L.A. region, says that thousands of jobs are going begging in the county. A severe shortage of both unskilled and skilled workers is to blame. "We are importing people here to fill the jobs, and still it is not enough," says Kyser. I have interviewed hundreds of the homeless over the years. They have included former radio disc jockeys, construction workers, teachers, day laborers, union members, mothers, runaway teens, and even a few intellectuals. Like the rest of my brethren, when I came upon a homeless person who did not have a tangled and tragic story to tell, my notebook remained closed and I moved on until I found one who did. I did not realize, in those years, what a disservice I was doing. The homeless problem will grow as long as the middle-class types who have controlled the debate for years continue to repress all chance of honest -- if painful -- discussion. This is an area rife with guilt tripping and tongue clucking. How imbedded in our culture is the guilt tripping? Can we really shake it off? Maybe not. I recently commented in public that the police believe the homeless are the victims of crime -- not usually the perpetrators of crime -- in large part because they are drunk, high, or incapacitated. In essence, they make perfect victims. My comments, distilled down to the quote that "the homeless are too drunk to commit crimes," caused one Democratic party operative to become almost apoplectic with outrage. How dare anyone speak ill of the sainted and faultless homeless? Yet, as Hayes points out, "They don't want to be like those well- meaning liberals. If they know you, most of the homeless will admit to you they'd rather do their hustle instead. A friend of mine tells me, "I don't read a newspaper, listen to radio, or watch TV. Just leave me alone, because I have had it with that world.'" Worse than the well-meaning liberals are the homeless-program operators, in Hayes' view. "I know people who have been through every homeless mission program three, four, five times. The mission people know this, the city hall funders know this. They know it's a game for most of them." Hayes has pleaded with city leaders to hold a homeless summit to pursue bold new ideas. He argues that society should provide the homeless with a base level of sanitary living and dignity while giving up on the idea of mainstreaming them back into traditional jobs and apartments. He has asked Mayor Richard Riordan, Police Chief Bernard Parks, Sheriff Lee Baca, and other leaders to come together for a summit. Although Baca is said to be open to the idea, Riordan and Parks have ignored the proposal. Sadly, city hall is doing almost the opposite of holding a summit to explore new approaches. Instead, a huge area of downtown has been essentially declared off-limits to the homeless. The LAPD, under pressure from city hall and downtown business leaders, is trying to herd the homeless on Skid Row east of downtown. And the Row, of course, is bristling with largely ineffective programs based on the paradigm of mainstreaming the homeless into jobs and apartments. In defiance of the "containment policy" to push the homeless east of Los Angeles Street and well away from Bunker Hill, Hayes and a dozen or so homeless have been sleeping on the sidewalks in tony areas of downtown.They hope to publicize what they see as the wrongful use of selective laws to force the homeless away from areas bustling with well- groomed business people. "It's a horrible idea to concentrate the homeless, putting all this pressure on the building owners and businesses in Skid Row and creating a health hazard," says Hayes. "There aren't public restrooms, so people urinate and defecate in the streets, then they sleep in it, they get on buses and track it all over town." For a few weeks, the activist group slept at the main entrance to the beautiful Central Library, where diners at the classy McCormick & Schmick restaurant could peer down upon them. Now, the group has moved even deeper into suit territory, by camping next to the Bonaventure Hotel directly underneath the 4th Street overpass. Not surprisingly, the media has glossed over their message. The activists don't just want to stop the pressure on the homeless to move eastward. They want a new discussion about homelessness to begin. Los Angeles is a city that has shown the courage to try new things. Someday, I hope this city will show some courage by honestly exploring the intractable problem of homelessness. You can view this message and the related discussion by following this link: http://www.deja.com/thread/%3c9066a2$f72$1@nnrp1.deja.com%3e%231/3 END FORWARD **In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.** *********************************************************** 9000+ articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people INFO & to join/leave list - Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net> Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy ***********************************************************