Article on the Flamingo Squatters FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 4 Dec 1997 17:31:03 -0800 (PST)


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This article appeared in the December issue of Change-Links, a Los
Angeles Alternative Newspaper.
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The Flamingo Squatters: Human Rights vs. Property Rights
by Lyn Gerry

Just before dawn on November 19, 30-40 Santa Monica cops raided a
squat at the abandoned Flamingo Motel, and arrested three homeless
activists -- Jennafer Waggoner, David Bush (both homeless), and
Michael Reinsborough of Food Not Bombs.

When the police arrived, Michael said, he stepped off the Flamingo
property with a video camera to document the arrest.  Police grabbed
him and smashed his camera before arresting him. Jennafer and David
were chained to the building in anticipation of a raid. They were cut
from their restraints and Jennafer was dragged across the property.
The more than 50 residents of the Flamingo, were photographed by
police then sent out into the street, homeless again.

Bureaucratic red tape has always plagued homeless programs, and this
year, as had happened last year, homeless people were left out in the
rain. Jennafer Waggoner, a homeless rights activist who serves on the
City Social Services Commission and the Los Angeles Homeless Services
Authority, decided to reclaim the abandoned Flamingo Motel as an
emergency shelter. It had once provided low-income transitional
housing, until it was closed two years ago as part of a redevelopment
scheme involving developers MacGuire-Thomas, who also have a hand in
the Dreamworks project which is destroying the Ballona Wetlands a few
miles to the south.

For eight days preceding the raid, homeless citizens had occupied the
Flamingo Motel on Ocean Avenue and turned it into a home. With the
support of activists from Food Not Bombs and other members of the
community, the rooms in the motel were opened, cleaned and put to use.
While city and county politicians dragged their feet about opening the
barely adequate cold weather shelters, people took their lives into
their own hands. The Flamingo protesters had called on city officials
to declare a state of emergency. After stonewalling most of the week,
Julie Rusk, the city's Manager of Human Services sent a letter to the
Flamingo on the evening of November 18. Jennafer Waggoner, chained to
the building, dictated an immediate response on behalf of the
residents.

"Without city funding, " she wrote, "we have set up this emergency
shelter, fed hundreds of meals and given physical and emotional
support to many Santa Monica citizens. As you know, this shelter has
been supported by the people of Santa Monica. Our meeting today did
nothing to change any city policies that protect us in case of
disasters. Not all human beings are protected by the laws of Santa
Monica."

Judy Rambo, a spokesperson for the city, claimed that the police raid
was in response to a complaint filed by Macguire-Thomas, the leasing
agents for the building. She contended that Santa Monica cares about
its homeless citizens, citing the $2,000,000 spent annually on
homeless services as one of the most generous programs in the nation.

Jennafer Waggoner disagrees. The available facilities in the city are
more than 1000 beds short of meeting the need, she said. And Santa
Monica has led the nation in passing repressive "poor laws," which
prohibit covering one's self with a blanket in a public park, sleeping
in public or private places, recycling cans from dumpsters, and
requiring permits to sell the local homeless newspaper.

Now that the cold weather shelters in the National Guard armories have
"officially" opened, the city seems to consider the matter handled.
But these facilities do not meet the need; they open only in the most
extreme weather conditions, and eject residents at 5 AM, rain or
shine. And, Governor Wilson has already announced that funding for
these shelters will be cut from the fiscal '98 budget. The activists
are demanding the city repeal it anti-homeless ordinances and create a
"safe zone" on public property where homeless Santa Monicans can get
access to sanitary, medical, and camping facilities on a year round
basis.

Meanwhile, the protesters are out on bail and scheduled to appear in
court on December 19. Transitional housing units stand empty due to
real estate speculation while people remain homeless. Food is thrown
away while people go hungry. The problem of homelessness is not going
away. Neither are the activists. Says Jennafer Waggoner, "you can't
just sweep us under the rug."

For more info about the Flamingo squatters, call Michael Reinsborough:
(213) 735-8648
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