Public Space
August 31, 2013 12:48 PM   Subscribe

L.A.'s urban parks: for the homeless, too? 'The new small parks include features that homeless advocates say are meant to harass. But managers contend they just want to prevent people from living there.'[LA Times - for access, use private browsing function in your browser].

'Police and city officials deny any bullying campaign, saying their enforcement efforts are directed at illegal activities.' '"The key is keeping the area in a way that can be used by all," said Los Angeles police Capt. Horace Frank, who heads the downtown detail.

Police stepped up their presence at Pershing Square last year in response to complaints after Occupy Los Angeles was forcibly ejected from the City Hall lawn, Frank said. Remnants of the group disrupted the farmers' market, urinating on walls, grabbing food samples and demanding spare change, the market manager said.'

'"It's a game of cat and mouse," said UCLA law professor Gary Blasi, who has studied homelessness in Los Angeles, "except the mice have nowhere to go."'

'Not long after Spring Street Park opened, a security guard at the loft building next door called police to investigate two men suspected of cooking heroin purchased on skid row. Zach Calig, a television writer, came down from his condo to find his cousin, whom he hadn't seen for years, slumped on the ground in handcuffs.

Calig said he is in recovery from substance abuse himself and understands how people end up addicted and homeless. But he doesn't want them overrunning his neighborhood park.'
posted by VikingSword (93 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Ah, the eternal struggle between compassion for the homeless and actually wanting a park other people can use from time to time.
posted by Artw at 12:58 PM on August 31, 2013 [34 favorites]

Or abstract compassion for the homeless and, you know, actually having to confront the brutal reality of homelessness.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

We can either ignore and then periodically persecute the homeless (current model) or actually look upon homelessness as a serious problem that deserves our efforts and money to solve.
posted by emjaybee at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

What, are there no public libraries in LA?
posted by Rykey at 1:17 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I suppose we could always go the Brazilianmodel model and let the homeless turn city parks into favellas. That actually seems to be the direction cities like San Jose are going.
posted by happyroach at 1:19 PM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, it doesn't have to be that way. It isn't homelessness that makes people addicts. I am homeless. I do not drink or take drugs. You can be against cooking heroin in the park without saying it is a homeless thing. A lot of homelessness is caused by addiction, not the other way around. Addiction is caused by other issues.

You don't want the homeless using public bathrooms to wash up? Make it possible to get a shower without being housed. Because you also complain the homeless smell* but then throw them out of public places for washing up. Where are they supposed to go to resolve that?

Some folks are on the street by choice. So I don't see how you can ever end homelessness. It might make more sense to plan a world where being housed is not the only way to get your needs met in certain respects. Address drug addiction as a separate issue. I have seen plenty of upper class people trash public bathrooms. No one cares or says anything to them. A homeless person can do the exact same thing in terms of use as someone else and be asked to leave over it. It is pure prejudice. And most of the trash (cans and bottles) I haul out of local park to make a few bucks is put there by privileged youth and joggers, not the homeless. There are plenty of well off people trashing our public parks.

These kinds of conversations annoy me. Substitute "women" or "blacks" or any other people categorizing word for "homeless" and it would not be okay to wholesale judge them. Sonehow it is okay to do that about "the homeless." Oy.

*Frankly, I find the smell of most housed people pretty offensive. They smell of detergent and perfume and cigarettes...etc. I have respiratory problems and allergies. Perfumes, etc make me genuinely ill. But if I were to complain about their smell, I assure you nothing would be done about it by the staff of public buildings who enforce the smell rule and ask me to leave. It is basically a Jim Crow law. There is no objective measure here.
posted by Michele in California at 1:19 PM on August 31, 2013 [64 favorites]

Anatole France has a good quote: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

It's kind of problematic, but it also kind of isn't.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:36 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

We could definitely stand to provide more support to homeless people such that they can keep themselves clean and fed. Some homeless people could stand to police their own ranks a bit to keep incidents like leaving used needles lying about from happening. There's little reason why parks can't have some overnight sleeping tolerated and still be used by the general public except some people's discomfort at being around people/things that remind them that this world is not all hunky dory for everyone.

There are perfectly rational reasons people choose to sleep under a bridge or in a park instead of a shelter even when shelter space is available.
posted by wierdo at 1:44 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suppose we could always go the Brazilian model model and let the homeless turn city parks into favellas.

I mean, here's the thing. If there's demand for a shantytown in your city — if there's hundreds of people who would totally build a shantytown, right now, all they need is the space and the opportunity — then you've already fucked up pretty bad.

At that point, intervening on the supply end, by chasing people out of parks or destroying their shelters or whatever, isn't really doing much to improve the situation.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 1:45 PM on August 31, 2013 [18 favorites]

Re the Anatole France quote:

Laws are typically written by the privileged and do not take into account the different realities of the less privileged. If laws are well written and society is well designed, no it is not a problem to apply the same standard equally to all. But that rarely happens. This is why jury nullification (to redress institutional prejudice against blacks) is a thing. This is also why it is standard practice to release all prisoners after overthrowing a government: A lot of folks are in jail because they were intolerable to the evil regime in charge. (That black South African leader spent hellacious amounts of time in prison.)

As I understand it, the quote in question is kind of intended sarcastically. The rich generally do not need to steal bread to survive. Only the destitute steal bread. (Rich folks who steal go for bigger prizes.)

I have had a class on Homelessness and Public Policy, long ago when I was a middle class homemaker. I volunteered in a homeless shelter for a time. It started as an internship for the class but continued well after. People with housing challenges are typically people with chronic, incurable personal problems. I have a medical condition, two special needs sons, an abusive childhood in my past. That kind of thing is the norm. Abuse, special needs, medical or mental health problems are very common among the homeless. Just sticking someone like that in a house doesn't fix their problems. That is part of why I think people would rather stigmatize this population: It is too overwhelming to try to address the underlying real issues. Homelessness is usually more the symptom than the problem per se.
posted by Michele in California at 1:55 PM on August 31, 2013 [17 favorites]

The Silicon Valley article linked by bukvich is interesting - with a tiny bit of infrastructure, it wouldn't be that much different than a campground. I mean, I live in a (private) campground and it's basically some narrow gravel roads, water/electric at most sites, and a showerhouse. However, booby traps and tree houses definitely wouldn't be tolerated.
posted by desjardins at 2:00 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was hoping there'd be more about the features of the park that were "designed to harass."

I've got kind of fixated on this sort of thing since I realized the benches in our bus shelters were designed so you can't lie down on them. Or bumps on handrails and other stuff that clearly have no purpose other than to discourage skateboarding.
posted by RobotHero at 2:19 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I sometimes think there is a group (class?) of people who want to round up the homeless and put them in shelters like we do stray animals. Only they don't want to pay for that kind of thing. And we can't have kill shelters for humans who are left unclaimed after 10 days. So what do we do with the homeless? We aren't willing to pay to shelter and feed them; we aren't willing to let them fend for themselves on our streets; if they ask passers-by for money they are probably violating a law; if they try to create art of some sort and ask for donations for doing that, they violate a different law.

For a supposedly "christian nation", we suck at following the most basic things that the supposed Christ said we were supposed to do.

I have three friends who are homeless for various reasons, and utterly lack the resources to support them in my life on my own. Why this can't be a community-based problem with community-based solutions implemented as a community is beyond me.

Oh, wait. Right. "If we give this kind of support to people who can't/won't work, nobody will want to work." Bull-fucking-shit.
posted by hippybear at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2013 [19 favorites]

Anatole France has a good quote: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

It was an interesting quote the first time I heard it. After the next fifty times, I wonder if there's anyone in the Western world who hasn't heard it. Sometime I place little bets with myself to see how long it will take certain MeFi threads to drag it out.

You don't want the homeless using public bathrooms to wash up? Make it possible to get a shower without being housed. Because you also complain the homeless smell* but then throw them out of public places for washing up. Where are they supposed to go to resolve that?

It is possible to get a shower without being housed. (Ten dollar a month gym memberships, for example, will allow someone to shower every day it's open) It is not possible to get a shower while being without money and without being housed, at least in urban areas.

I think the city's argument is usually "That's what homeless shelters are for" though. I understand why people don't want to use them - from what I understand, they're fairly dangerous - but at the same time, if the city is already providing a service that is being underutilized, it makes sense why they might not want to institute another one.

The other really unfortunate effect is: property values go down where there are areas to accomodate the homeless - because homeless tend to congregate there, and that (rightly or wrongly) drags property values down.
posted by corb at 2:59 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I mean, here's the thing. If there's demand for a shantytown in your city — if there's hundreds of people who would totally build a shantytown, right now, all they need is the space and the opportunity — then you've already fucked up pretty bad.

It isn't always that simple.
Homelessness isn't a local problem, it's a national problem (or at minimum, a state problem).

My city is attractive to the homeless for a variety of reasons. It's easy to get to, has a decent climate, resources available, and is known to be, if not friendly, tolerant of transients.
In fact, there is a movement to build an official shantytown, like the one in Portland.

The things is, my town can't afford to provide for the population we have now, let alone for new transients.
We don't have enough mental health services, they're shutting down the parks for lack of maintenance, the library is cutting back hours, etc.

A state/national program is the only thing that can really make a dent in this problem. To get folks the mental health/alcohol/drug treatment they need, to institutionalize those who really shouldn't be wandering around on their own, to get folks from a place of no jobs to a place of available employment.
posted by madajb at 3:02 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

We aren't willing to pay to shelter and feed them;

You aren't? I am. Speak for yourself.
posted by sidereal at 3:15 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's a quotation that I've found helpful. I'm copy-pasting from an op-ed I wrote earlier this year for an Hawaii online newssite called a "Park is for the People, Unless They Are Homeless?" Public space and how we determine its uses are one of my main research areas in my urban planning program.

NYU law professor Jeremy Waldron considers the rise of sit-lie ordinances and similar municipal laws as not just criminalizing homelessness, but de facto legislating homeless people out of existence.

“Since private places and public places between them exhaust all the places that there are, there is nowhere that these actions may be performed by the homeless person. And since freedom to perform a concrete action requires freedom to perform it at some place, it follows that the homeless person does not have the freedom to perform them. If sleeping is prohibited in public places, then sleeping is comprehensively prohibited to the homeless. If urinating is prohibited in public places (and if there are no public lavatories) then the homeless are simply unfree to urinate. These are not altogether comfortable conclusions, and they are certainly not comfortable for those who have to live with them.”(Waldron, J. 1991, “Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom.” UCLA Law Review 39, 295-324)

posted by spamandkimchi at 3:18 PM on August 31, 2013 [18 favorites]

Yeah, corb, it is possible. So is walking on the moon, though damn few people have done it.

I am in San Diego county. In downtown San Diego, you have the Neil Good Day Center. Showers are available for free for a limited amount of time. Open bay with 8 showerheads, like a prison shower. God help you if you are shy. Rachel's Women's Center has (or had) two private showers by appointment. They cloed for repairs "for a month" around October of last year. I think I was last there in February. Still closed, open date TBA.

According to google, there is one truck stop in San Diego county. It is nowhere near any place I have been. I did sometimes pay for a shower at a truck stop last yea while crossing the country. When I camped (legally, paid for a site) for a month in Port Aransas last year, there were public beach houses where you could pay 4 quarters for a shower. I used them. Supposedly, somewhere in San Diego county there are beach showers like that. I have yet to find them. Most beach showers hee are public and intended to rinse the sand off. One campground I found had private showers, for campers only (mostly folks in RVs).

Given the amount of beaches in this county, I think it should be way easier than it is to find a private shower for a dollar or so. The reason it isn't is partly because a lot of stuff is intentionally designed for the needs of the upper classes. Even when it isn't intentionally designed to shut out people like me, it is often de facto not useful to me.

So feel free to read that as "make it easier to get a shower" if that goes over better with you. But I stand by my main point that throwing people out of public bathrooms and also throwing them out of public buildings amounts to "fuck you homeless people." You want them to do something else? Give them options not ultimatums that simply cannot be met.
posted by Michele in California at 3:19 PM on August 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

We aren't willing to pay to shelter and feed them;

You aren't? I am. Speak for yourself.

That's "we" as a society, not "we" as specific individuals. I suspect many here on MeFi would be willing to shoulder their burden to make their lives manageable. But that's a very small slice of the populace as a whole, and in the US the whole attitude is either "I got mine, fuck you if you don't have yours" or, slightly better "there are charities which will handle this; give to them if you give a shit". The concept that homelessness is a structural problem in a society and requires commenwealth solutions in order to be fully effective is entirely alien.
posted by hippybear at 3:20 PM on August 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

That's "we" as a society, not "we" as specific individuals

That's a pretty nasty condemnation of an entire society, utterly disregarding the efforts of an enormous number of people who help.

If you're trolling for favorites, though, it's spot on.
posted by sidereal at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the city's argument is usually "That's what homeless shelters are for" though. I understand why people don't want to use them - from what I understand, they're fairly dangerous - but at the same time, if the city is already providing a service that is being underutilized, it makes sense why they might not want to institute another one.

I don't think I've ever lived anywhere where the local shelters could be considered underutilized, though. And that still doesn't help people who didn't or couldn't stay in a shelter for whatever reason, since shelters generally don't let in people who aren't staying there overnight for security reasons, and generally close during the day. Also, not all shelters have showering facilities. For example, in Halifax, the need is large enough that a volunteer coalition runs an additional winter-time shelter of last resort (i.e. it takes everyone), but this just consists of an array of cots in a church basement.
posted by eviemath at 3:28 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

That's a pretty nasty condemnation of an entire society, utterly disregarding the efforts of an enormous number of people who help.

If you can show me quality evidence of society-based interventions which are truly effective at addressing this problem, I will of course rescind my condemnation of an entire society.

Based on what I have seen practiced in the real world, I don't feel I have any real need to do so.

Please help change the way I look at society.
posted by hippybear at 3:32 PM on August 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Reading between the sanctimony and the condescension as well as I can, it seems like you, personally, have given up.

It's ok for you to do that, but it's not ok to paint other people with your own brush.
posted by sidereal at 3:40 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you feel like as a nation the United States cares about poverty and homelessness, I question whether we live in the same country because that is so far out of my realm of experience as to be utter fantasy.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2013 [25 favorites]

*raised eyebrow* I think you're taking my general sense of annoyance with society at large and are conflating it with what I may be doing personally.

But again -- charities are not the solution to this problem, because it's too large. I can't house and feed the homeless, although I have provided living space for friends who would otherwise be homeless while they got back on their feet. I donate regularly to the local rescue missions, which are the only resource available in this area which are available for the homeless. They barely make a dent in the problem. What more do you propose I do?
posted by hippybear at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2013

What more do you propose I do?

I was addressing what one should not do.

It's a small point and I believe I've made it as best as I can, so I'll drop it now.
posted by sidereal at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2013

I was hoping there'd be more about the features of the park that were "designed to harass."

Here's an example of something I saw in China.
posted by sarae at 3:50 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you feel like as a nation the United States cares about poverty and homelessness

I feel that that is a useless synecdoche. (I am criticising that construct, not you). It makes people fight about the wrong things.
posted by sidereal at 3:55 PM on August 31, 2013

Seriously, there have been massive, well thought and ambitious programs funded and implemented by organizations such as the Robert Wood Foundation, US Dept of Housing, Veterans affairs, etc. I am not going to do the research for you but if you want to be relentless skeptical do a little research on your own about the efforts to seriously address and ameliorate some of the problems of homelessness. I will tell you ahead, that there is little evidence that even the most ambitious programs are more than marginally successful in anything but short term relief. I am talking about programs that provide in house substance abuse and MH services, peer mentoring, financial assistance, residential support ( independent and group ). Data repeatedly demonstrates that the rate of drug/substance abuse and mental illness is disproportionately high in this population. These are chronic and and very refractory problems and a glib response that we just need more of "whatever" does not provide any real answers. Next time you feel like dashing and dismissing the work and efforts of 10,000's of professionals, staff, volunteers and hundreds of millions ( if not billions ) dollars of efforts do it with a bit more research.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:56 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

The things is, my town can't afford to provide for the population we have now, let alone for new transients.

So the interesting thing is that even with the best of intentions, transients can be problematic for a society.

I'm NYC-way and was around for the Occupy Wall Street stuff. I actually, for a while, provided security for the occupiers - lest anyone fall over and die of shock, I had some friends who were doing it and whatever I thought of the reason for the protests, the encampment was becoming unsafe.

While I was there, I witnessed the transformation of the park. Initially, it was made up primarily of activists who all knew each other - who had accountability in some way. While they may have been geographic "transients", they were, in fact fixed - if they had behaved badly, it would have been obvious in their community.

As it got to be more successful, it started attracting more poor and homeless people who enjoyed the free food, cigarettes, tents, library, and other assorted services. It also attracted homeless as I am told that police had started mentioning to homeless throughout the city that they should go to OWS to get warm and fed.

This meant an uptick in the number of events. I had to break up domestic abuse fights, other fights, and there were thefts and sexual assaults. It was a shitshow. More than once I would see person after person, initially idealistic about fighting for "the 99 percent" driven to tears by the situation, shouting about how "the homeless" were taking up their resources without contributing back, that some of them weren't getting on any teams, weren't helping in any way, and were antagonizing others. "We don't have the resources to help these people, we have to focus on our mission" became the rallying cry.

And I can't say that they were wrong. I am reminded of when a few thousand dollars was stolen from a specific area. Security was pretty sure they knew who had done it, they asked me to talk to the guy - I think because we were both Hispanic? Hard to say. But when I talked to him, he essentially admitted stealing from the other occupiers. "This is a game to them, they've never really been hungry, they deserve what they get." was essentially his position.

I'm still not sure what the large overall message to take from this is, other than that people are not necessarily uncaring. Homeless encampments can, in fact, raise issues - not everyone homeless has mental health issues or substance abuse issues, but many do. And not everyone is filled up with bitter resentment at others - but to be honest, it'd take a miracle for them not to be.

So what do you do? How do you handle it?
posted by corb at 4:09 PM on August 31, 2013 [20 favorites]

Critizing "America in general" for failing to care enough about a given issue is not the same thing as saying that no one in America cares about that issue, or that no resources are devoted to it. Americans don't care enough about climate change; that statement doesn't "dash and dismiss" the work of the myriads of climate researchers and ecological activists and alternative energy developers etc. etc. etc. It simply makes an overall assessment of the general state of affairs.
posted by yoink at 4:17 PM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Americans don't care enough about climate change

Putting that "enough" in there makes it a reasonable opinion. Taking it out makes it not.
posted by sidereal at 4:22 PM on August 31, 2013

totally talking to this other dude now
posted by sidereal at 4:23 PM on August 31, 2013

Putting that "enough" in there makes it a reasonable opinion. Taking it out makes it not.

No. Why shouldn't you say "hey, I care enough! Speak for yourself!" The logical form is identical.
posted by yoink at 4:34 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Guys, maybe cut it out with the whole "by 'we' I mean 'you' but not necessarily you-you depending on how you phrase it" runaround, it's not making the thread better.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:51 PM on August 31, 2013 [17 favorites]

Some homeless people could stand to police their own ranks a bit to keep incidents like leaving used needles lying about from happening

Because the safe thing to do when you are sleeping out in the open with all your possessions and zero physical security is to start shit with other people because of littering.

You are asking the most vulnerable people in our society to enforce laws that our own police forces cannot. That's crazy.
posted by ryanrs at 4:52 PM on August 31, 2013 [14 favorites]

You are asking the most vulnerable people in our society to enforce laws that our own police forces cannot. That's crazy.

But if they don't, the police will, and the police will be much nastier about it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:13 PM on August 31, 2013

Right, you're just putting homeless people in an impossible situation, threatening their safety with either choice. That's the same sort of non-solution that is being described by the stories in this thread.
posted by ryanrs at 5:20 PM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh hell, I used to work like 3 blocks from there, on Olive St, and lived about 6 blocks away. This is on the edge of the highest density of homeless in LA, it's mere blocks from Skid Row. And it's the site of a new family friendly condo development. I don't think people quite have the picture of what this park is. It's a playground for toddlers. It has a dog walking area.

This is nothing like the park pictured in the article. That is right across from the rail yard, which always has a very high density of homeless living in the undeveloped area. That's where the City used to erect a temporary homeless camp when the population grew too large for the Downtown area.

This is a war that has been fought for decades. Downtown parks get taken over by homeless, they set up cardboard shacks with cartons from the Toy District and Garment District. They become permanent structures, which become a public nuisance from the piles of garbage. I remember when they bulldozed one of the parks on Skid Row. The City had to get a line of dump trucks and an end loader to haul away tons of garbage. Homeless activists sued the city and said this was illegal search and seizure of their property. The City responded that they could pick up their personal possessions any time at the City Dump. The advocates won a restraining order, the City must post notices at least 30 days in advance of any clearing operation. So the City posted notices on ALL the downtown parks and cleared them all out. Then they installed sprinklers in the parks, which made it impossible to erect cardboard shacks. The sprinklers would run about once an hour, and all night, turning everything into mush.

In the midst of this legal battle, one of the homeless guys suing the City said something I'll never forget, "Urban renewal means nigger removal." He was later found dead, he overdosed on heroin and drowned in 2 inches of water in a fountain on the LA City Hall plaza. The city drained the fountain and it has been dry ever since.

At my store on Olive Street, my work cubicle was closest to the front door where the receptionists were constantly harassed by the homeless. One day the boss put an aluminum baseball bat next to my desk and said he expected me to defend the receptionists, if necessary. Fortunately I never had to take direct action. One day I came back from an appointment and found my boss and two other employees sitting on top of a guy on the sidewalk, he tried to rob our shop with a knife. The LAPD came and collected the guy, who promptly sued the company for damages from his well-deserved beatdown.

But this isn't just class war between urban renewal and the homeless. The homeless prey on each other. I've seen two homeless guys get into a knife fight over a garbage bag full of aluminum cans. This isn't a situation where poor hapless people are homeless due to the bad economy. This is a permanent criminal underclass.

So before you start advocating for the poor helpless criminal underclass, I suggest you look and see what is actually happening there. Yes, even the criminal underclass has rights. But I particularly liked one quote from the article:

Skid row activists call it harassment.

That is correct. It is the job of the LAPD to harass and arrest criminals. That park is in LAPD Central Division. Do not fuck with Central Division.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:34 PM on August 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think the city's argument is usually "That's what homeless shelters are for" though. I understand why people don't want to use them - from what I understand, they're fairly dangerous - but at the same time, if the city is already providing a service that is being underutilized, it makes sense why they might not want to institute another one.

Why don't 'the homeless'* utilize what few resources there are? How about privacy and security issues? Who the hell wants to shower in an open prison type shower or to sleep on a cot with 50 other people in the same room? Never mind leaving their stuff where it can be stolen when they do so.

Why would it be so hard to build a bath house with 40 individual locking showers, women separate from men, and hire assistants/security people to monitor for safety and to prevent destruction. Hire janitors to clean them, and make them hella sturdy and easy to clean--the state park I worked in had concrete showers and potty stalls, with some kind of heavy duty plastic doors that were totally resistant to gouging and graffiti. All we did to clean was use a warm water hose and a brush over everything. Squeegee, it drains, and was dried within minutes. Forced air heat in the winter. When I worked there, people always complimented the rangers on how clean they were and how nice to use. Make them large enough to bring in a shopping cart so there possessions are safe. Check people in, give them a towel, check the out and get the towel back, inspect the area for damage, then clean with a hot water hose. You could even hire responsible homeless and pay them!

Why can't we provide a 7x7x7 capsule hotel similar to these? Again, make them out of extremely heavy duty plastic with a built-in 'bunk' to one side and a shelf to put things on, and a lockable door. That's all that's needed for the basic shelter. Slant it slightly so that the whole thing can be sluiced out daily and will dry easily. No mattress and nothing removable. Check people in, give them a blanket, check people out in the morning. Nothing fancy, after all, we wouldn't want to make it too nice--that would be subsidizing their lifestyle, eh?

It is sort of like a dog house, but if the alternative is sleeping on the ground, isn't this better? If they're an annoyance in the parks, then you've removed the annoyance, and you've done better by your fellow human beings. Yes, people will still fall through the cracks--maybe they're claustrophobic, maybe they can't be indoors, maybe they're too destructive, too antisocial, or too unstable to live this way--but I'll be most of the homeless would jump at the chance just to have some place, safe, clean, private, and warm/cool enough. Those that fit into the too destructive/antisocial/unstable/plain crazy categories?--well, maybe we god-damn well need to get more and better mental health facilities going.

Some of the money to do this can come from police department budgets and park services. Resources spent rousting people out of parks and dealing with crime could go to assisting people rather than marginalizing them further.

Take care of the homeless, create jobs, what's the drawback here?

*Homeless in quotes because there's so damn many reasons people might not have shelter. All homeless are not alike.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:36 PM on August 31, 2013 [15 favorites]

Who the hell wants to shower in an open prison type shower

Not to minimize the issues here, but most of the gyms I've had memberships in over the years have open showers. They used to be pretty common in college dorms, too. Granted not everyone is comfortable in that environment, but they're not exactly a cruel punishment being meted out to dehumanize the homeless.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:50 PM on August 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

but most of the gyms I've had memberships in over the years have open showers.

...and people with gym memberships generally have a shower at home that they can return to, if they don't like public showers or don't want to take a public shower that day.

They used to be pretty common in college dorms, too.

...where you are showering with your neighbors, not random strangers.

In all things, context is important.
posted by muddgirl at 6:36 PM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also as another example my workplace provides shower space to employees and for men anyways it's one big room and the shower heads are group on the wall in sets of three.
posted by Mitheral at 6:41 PM on August 31, 2013

Why can't we provide a 7x7x7 capsule hotel similar to these?

The County of Los Angeles has thoughtfully provided hundreds of suitable 8x12 capsule hotel rooms at a convenient Downtown location.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:50 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

charlie don't surf: "The County of Los Angeles has thoughtfully provided hundreds of suitable 8x12 capsule hotel rooms at a convenient Downtown location."

Your second link says "inmate reception center" on the building monument. That cracks me up. It's like a "reception center" at the Hyatt, complete with being escorted through a private entrance by your own personal driver and with expensive jewelry hanging off your wrists.
posted by fireoyster at 6:53 PM on August 31, 2013

charie don't surf: This isn't a situation where poor hapless people are homeless due to the bad economy. This is a permanent criminal underclass.

You are calling all homeless people in (downtown) Los Angeles a "criminal underclass". This is a classist thing to say. It's like calling undocumented immigrants "illegals", or all young black men living in a poor inner city neighborhood criminals or thugs or gang members, or all white people living in the rural South rednecks or hicks or racists (merely by dint of their membership in that group rather than in reference to specific activity for every single member of the group). I am not trying to dispute your experiences or to claim that you did not witness any criminal activity committed by any people who were homeless. You have gone beyond anecdotes to stereotyping in this comment, however (sidestepping any data or statistics on, say, violent crime committed by homeless people against other homeless people). It's bigoted language.

It is also a thoughtless and rude thing to say on Metafilter given that some of your fellow mefites are or have been homeless. At least one in other threads has spoken of having been homeless on skid row in Los Angeles as a youth, in fact.

Maybe this is not what you intended. It's certainly not where I was expecting your comment to end up from the earlier paragraphs. Unfortunately, it's where your comment went. Not cool.
posted by eviemath at 7:37 PM on August 31, 2013 [12 favorites]

And the LAPD is "bigoted" against murderers and thieves. Your attempt to conflate this "bigotry" with racism is ludicrous and offensive.

Everyone on Skid Row in LA is part of a criminal underclass. Everyone. It is an area with the highest concentration of evil of any place I have ever witnessed. And I witnessed it at close range, I lived near Skid Row for years, I've even worked in Skid Row missions. It is my personal observation that nobody can live near a criminal predator class without becoming a predator, or prey. The prey doesn't last a day.

Yes, it is possible to be a "legitimate homeless" person as you idealistically envision. But not on Skid Row. Maybe miles away, but not there. Even hundreds of miles away from Skid Row, in my own midwestern town, I became familiar with the local homeless people on a first name basis, due to my involvement with Occupy Wall Street. And here it is no different. There are a few "legitimate homeless" drifters who come and go, but the permanent homeless are all hardcore criminals. I know some of those criminals are eligible for full benefits, I know one who was even offered housing and health care after he was released from prison, but he prefers to live on the streets where he is King Rat and can prey on everyone from the top of the underclass food chain.

That is how it works and you are naive to think otherwise.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:07 PM on August 31, 2013

I repeat, giving the homeless a private place to shower and sleep is not just a humane and civilized thing to do, it's a matter of safety--primarily personal safety, but also safety for what few possessions they do own. It's also a matter of according them the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings--something they don't get much of.

I find it interesting that those people who don't think the poor deserve a private shower reference public showers in gyms and universities. I'd call both of those places bastions of privilege, myself, usually quite safe, and frequented by the (relatively) affluent. And yet even in gyms and universities people are hurt and things get stolen. No?

Everyone on Skid Row in LA is part of a criminal underclass. Everyone. It is an area with the highest concentration of evil of any place I have ever witnessed. And I witnessed it at close range, I lived near Skid Row for years, I've even worked in Skid Row missions. It is my personal observation that nobody can live near a criminal predator class without becoming a predator, or prey. The prey doesn't last a day.

Everyone is part of a criminal underclass? And you lived quite near there? Your personal observation is that everyone on Skid Row is evil? Are you sure you didn't get some evil rub off on you just by being that close?

Sorry, I don't buy it. Anyone who makes blanket statements about hundreds of disparate human beings is full of crap. (and/or could be republican) I will grant you that there's most likely a slightly higher concentration of bastards on Skid Row compared Main Street, USA. In that case, it is a matter for civil control. Your King Rat sounds like he's breaking the law and is a case for return to prison. I'm all for removing the predators and giving 'the prey' a place to survive.

In any group of human beings there's the good, the bad, and a few of the ugly. I may be naive, but I think the good outnumber the bad, and there's only a small, small percent of the ugly.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:20 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

The County of Los Angeles has thoughtfully provided hundreds of suitable 8x12 capsule hotel rooms at a convenient Downtown location.

"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
posted by Going To Maine at 9:25 PM on August 31, 2013 [10 favorites]

I don't think we can ever end homelessness, since many people are homeless by choice (to varying degrees). But if we could improve the foster care system so no kids have to be homeless, improve the veterans administration so no mentally ill veterans have to be homeless, and improve affordable housing options so no one with a low-wage job in an expensive town has to be homeless, that would put an enormous dent in the problem. Our schools and libraries and parks are getting overwhelmed because basic social services are so mediocre.
posted by miyabo at 9:31 PM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

charlie don't surf: " I lived near Skid Row for years, ... It is my personal observation that nobody can live near a criminal predator class without becoming a predator, or prey."

Ok, so which are you?
posted by notsnot at 9:38 PM on August 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm the prey. I lived behind barbed wire and bricks. From my second story window in a couple of places where I lived, I could look out over Skid Row all day and all night, and see everything. It is not a pretty picture. Skid Row is nothing you can imagine unless you witness it firsthand.

The homeless of Skid Row are about 75% mentally ill, dumped on the streets by Governor Reagan shutting down public mental health facilities. They are forced into criminal lifestyles just to survive, and in their diminished capacity, that's all they can do. The best thing you could do for them, in the current system, is put them in jail, where they'll get some medical attention. The other 25% are hardcore criminals. The best thing you could do for society is lock them up and throw away the key.

Unfortunately, the idealistic notion that you can care for the hapless, helpless homeless and just lock up the criminal elements, is not going to work. The helpless are only there with the permission of the criminal underclass, because the criminals already established that niche in the local ecology. The predators need prey. Let me give you an example.

When the homeless started to invade our local Occupy Wall Street camp, we had some problems with violent criminals amongst the homeless. I knew one of the police Sergeants so I decided to talk to him about it. He told me we had a big problem. Normally the local homeless lived under some bridges in a homeless camp a mile away from our OWS camp. They usually spent the autumn fighting over their hierarchy, to establish dominance over who could inhabit the best spots under the bridge. Then the King Rat could allow people to camp there, and demand payoffs from the weak who could not possibly stand up to him and the rest of the criminals. Just a few months earlier, an unemployed drifter was murdered by King Rat, they found him floating in the river. The police checked into it, they know why it happened, King Rat wouldn't let him sleep under the bridge because he had no tribute money. The police said they couldn't do anything about it, nobody would testify and no criminal case could be made. They had their own laws, and King Rat's word was law. The Sergeant said that since winter was coming soon, we had given them a new niche to fight over, and now King Rat was in our camp, doing the same thing, demanding tributes from the homeless that wanted to stay in the camp. There were some homeless people who came to OWS due to poor economic circumstances. We did our damndest to get them out of the camp and out of King Rat's clutches, and we managed to place a couple of them in shelter houses. But King Rat is still in charge to this day, and if you want to panhandle downtown, or get a warm place under the bridge all winter, you better be prepared to pay him off, or else you'll end up like the other guy, floating face down in the river.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:25 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Charlie, I have been on the street over 18 months and previously had a college class on Homelessness and Public Policy which included an internship at a homeless shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have not been to LA and I have no firsthand experience with Skid Row. But I have never heard any stories like that at all and haven't experienced anything like it. So I suspect that is hardly the norm for people on the street. And they are transient. Most aren't stuck in a particular location. Some float around the country. I am not saying such things do not happen but I have a little trouble wrapping my brain around the idea.

Regardless, the way to start untangling such a mess is to institute policies that are good for people. Not for rich people. Not for poor people. Just people. One of the big mistakes the U.S. made was designing Welfare to provide for "poor, single moms." It was designed that way at a time when having a child out of wedlock was Verboten and most poor, single moms were widows. It accidentally changed the social contract and actively grew the numbers of poor, single moms in the U.S.

Hopefully that example will make it clear to most people why "programs to help the homeless" are often counterproductive. We need policies and programs to help people, not homeless people. Making homelessness a precondition for getting help actively rewards and encourages the very behaviors most people would like to see end. Real solutions for "the homeless" start and end with real solutions for the kinds of complex human problems which lead to homelessness. Improved physical health, improved mental health, better access to simple, basic housing..etc.

Instead, we keep pouring resources into rescuing the destitute as if they have no agency (while actively undermining their agency) and marketing products to the upper classes as if they are the only buyers because we seem to think that's the way to get rich. Those two trends are a very big part of the problem. I don't personally need more soup kitchens. I need my health back, which I am working on, and I need an income source that doesn't keep me sick, which I am also working on but very frustrated over because I cannot get help with that piece of it. I know what solutions would fix my life. Most people turn a deaf ear to it. a society that works well for people, not homeless people (and also not rich people...etc), and a lot of this will improve. You cannot solve this by endlessly pouring more resources into crisis management. That just grows more drama. But that makes no sense to most people. This is a Chinese finger puzzle: The more effort you put into direct resistence, the more stuck you get. That isn't the path forward. Yet that's what people argue over. Endlessly.
posted by Michele in California at 11:08 PM on August 31, 2013 [17 favorites]

The most effective (and ultimately least expensive, due to savings in related programs) solution to homelessness is to just rent them apartments.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:50 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ok, so which are you?

Maybe he drives taxi?
posted by eviemath at 4:51 AM on September 1, 2013

But on a serious note, LA's Skid Row is not unlike Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. It's an area with an extreme amount of poverty, housing insecurity and homelessness, addictions issues, mental and other health issues (eg. HIV), violence (from various sources), people engaging in activities that are harmful to themselves and/or others, people who have been broken down by individual and systemic racism and a legacy of slavery (in the case of many Skid Row residents) and/or genocide (in the case of many DTES residents), people who have been broken down by sexism and patriarchy or homophobia and a personal or family legacy of domestic violence or gay-bashing. But it's a complex place with a history, and the people who live there are complex people with personal histories. One can acknowledge the harmful behaviors; one can express dislike, discomfort, or fear of having to confront specific harmful behaviors in one's home or one's neighborhood; one can express burnout from trying to help solve a giant, structural, long-standing, and very difficult problem - without referring to the human beings engaged in these behaviors as vermin or evil or all belonging to a criminal underclass (the history of the expression "criminal underclass" being somewhat loaded, as Going to Maine alluded to).
posted by eviemath at 5:16 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

More on the topic of the FPP, the brief description of the history of Skid Row in the article from Mother Jones Magazine that I just linked to seems quite relevant when evaluating and discussing the city's policies around use of city parks by homeless people or those with little economic means:
Skid row is nothing if not an intentional place; it was designated and nurtured by the city fathers. In 1976, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a redevelopment plan that included a "policy of containment." Those to be contained were the homeless, and the area they were to be contained in was the neighborhood known officially as Central City East. The policy did not suggest a walled ghetto, however, or a dismissive sealing away of the problems of the poorest. It was, instead, a response to those problems that ranked as enlightened compared with the policies of most other American cities at the time. After World War II, and increasingly in the 1960s and 1970s, America set about tearing down its skid rows, razing the run-down buildings, dispersing the destitute, and, often, offering up the newly cleared real estate to industrial developers. Los Angeles did its own fair share of razing. Notoriously, it bulldozed the entirety of Bunker Hill, the formerly haute heights of downtown whose gingerbread Victorian homes had declined into ramshackle firetrap tenements. The poor residential neighborhood was reborn, beginning in the 1970s, as a glistening spine of skyscrapers, flagship headquarters for megacorporations like Arco and Bank of America. Bunker Hill became the emblem of L.A.'s vaunted downtown renaissance. There was talk of doing the same with Central City East.

Then (and partly to deflect criticism that "redevelopment" was a euphemism for land clearing and class cleansing) came the 1976 redevelopment plan, and Central City East was instead "stabilized" for its poor residents. The housing was to be preserved and expanded, and the "containment" was to be achieved through a dipole magnet: the concentration in the area of services such as shelters and detox programs, and the establishment of light industry that might offer some entry employment for those on the street.

For a quarter of a century, the plan has worked. Dramatically, in the accounting of many of those involved. The poor congregated in an area where they posed the least nuisance and had the most available services. Businesses moved in on Skid Row's fringes, and the derelict housing was spectacularly rescued. What looks to outsiders like a plague zone is actually a crowning achievement of L.A.'s urban construct. "Fifth and San Julian Street is intense," says Jim Bonar, head of the Skid Row Housing Trust, "but it's not what it was 20 years ago."
posted by eviemath at 5:20 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I tire of seeing rings of trash around urban tents or around an abandoned sleeping bag; this is particularly tiring when there is a publicly paid for trash can eight steps away, or a dumpster across the street.

What reason or failing prevents so many homeless from being able to put their trash in a waste container? Be it a hundred cigarette butts, an apple core from a mission, a can or bottle, or the paper/plastic sack the charity lunch came from; whatever the debris; how is the fail repeatedly seen as the piles of trash that are left behind to mark ( ?smear? ) the trail and presence of "homeless".

After a decade or so of our increased modern "homeless" population; a lot of people don't even give a darn about anybody being anywhere doing anything. But when the "homeless" person moves on; why is there so often a marker of their presence left behind in the form of garbage?
posted by buzzman at 6:27 AM on September 1, 2013

But when the "homeless" person moves on; why is there so often a marker of their presence left behind in the form of garbage?

Dev psych 101: people trying to survive are not interested in improving your aesthetic experience.
posted by goethean at 6:50 AM on September 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

I see lots of definitely-have-homes people littering. Trash can five steps away at the bus stop and they throw their coffee cup or empty bag of chips on the ground.

People litter regardless of housing status. Surprise.
posted by rtha at 7:27 AM on September 1, 2013 [12 favorites]

"When our startup was getting acquired, we'd have all these meetings, and they'd introduce me like, 'This is Todd, he lives in his car.' I mean, it's cool!"
posted by rtha at 7:48 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

nacho fries: "Let's be clear: Skid Row is not representative of all homeless enclaves in the L.A. area, and charlie don't surf's experience of interacting with the homeless in that area is very different than my experience here in Santa Monica. I am comfortable and more than happy to share public spaces with my outdoor dwelling comrades. I find their presence much less threatening than their more well-heeled and -housed counterparts whose near-sociopathic levels of entitlement and self-absorption make them damn near insufferable to share space with. "

As a fellow Santa Monica resident (Hi, neighbor!) I agree completely. While they haven't solved the problem (according to the 2013 homeless count the number of homeless increased 1%) the city does take a very proactive approach to homelessness.

"But if they don't, the police will, and the police will be much nastier about it."

That's not a given, and it certainly doesn't have to be that way. And make no mistake: you may occasionally still see Santa Monica referred to as "The People's Republic of Santa Monica" but it's been a long time since the Tom Hayden days. If today's homeless problem had a meaningful impact on development, business and/or tourism the city would have no problem imposing harsher or more draconian measures. The city does have a downtown ordinance prohibiting sitting/sleeping/lying in doorways overnight, but at least part of that is because of the (mandatory) sidewalk power-washing zambonis that clean the sidewalk every night.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2013

Tricky balance. Being from Los Angeles, the homeless problem was generally contained in either downtown or the beaches. I remember watching SMPD harass homeless people down the street... into Venice, where they became LAPD's problem.

Los Angeles used to be a relatively easy place to be homeless – from what I heard and read – thanks to the fact that downtown wasn't really a desirable area. The white flight of the 50s and 60s had left downtown a commercial centre, but it wasn't really a place to live. It was spookily quiet in the evenings and on the weekends. Hence, the homeless took over whole swaths of spaces. Most people seemed not to mind really, as they glided from suburban driveways into gated parking lots in air conditioned cabins surrounded by talk radio. I don't much recall homeless people even being very violent – in generally, they were largely invisible. Perhaps this was the benefit of Los Angeles' sprawl. Even at it's 'centre' (if Los Angeles could ever have such a thing), there was ample space for everyone. That being said, homeless life in LA was tough, for whilst invisibility means people could occupy space, it also meant they were isolated from the rest of the society – a hidden in plain sight kind of thing.

San Francisco was very different. I recall one of the fellows indoctrinating me into San Francisco culture making the remark that San Francisco's liberalism had made it too easy to be homeless. There were support services, he said. Food banks, medical care programmes. In general, not only a tolerance, but a support of homeless. The homeless population of Union Square was just memorable sight to tourist as was the Transamerica building.

We debated the point quite a few times over those years in San Francisco. Homelessness being too easy. Some quite liked Los Angeles' take on it – one can be homeless, but we're certainly not going to support it. Others found the compassion of San Francisco more humane and desirable – the amount of money it cost to the taxpayer was negligible considering the human benefit derived. I always thought it was interesting that in the crowded dense city where homeless people were a part of the city itself – they could not be ignored – there was a consideration for their condition. As if the lack of ability to be invisible forced San Francisco to treat people more humanly. But the idea that homeless was too easy never felt right...

Fast-forward to living in London, and the European social states offer a completely different view from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. San Francisco's social support now seems to be the bare minimum that can be done – and now it seems mainly to control violence and disease vectors. Los Angeles seems quite un-humane, that such a wealthy city can so easily ignore its citizens.

In the European social states, it is very easy for generations of people to become addicted to social benefits, to the point where there is probably quite a large problem here of learned helplessness, on the part of the those receiving social benefits. It's very strange to be in wealthy parts of London, where one resident is paying thousands of pounds per month, and the next resident is paying council rents. Obviously the social dynamics of the places are very different, thus it's nearly impossible to compare a European city and an American city as related to how each deals with poverty, but it is a striking reminder that homelessness is by far from a natural result of urbanised society.

I can only wonder if the increasing flare-ups between Angelenos and the homeless has to do with the revitalisation of downtown. That movement was just beginning when I left some ten-plus years ago. The art communities had become quite vibrant in the old factories and workshops. The loft movement was gathering steam. Lots of interest arose in making downtown a destination again, and turning it back into a city, from the funky the corporate shell it had become.

I am infinitely pleased at was has gone on in Los Angeles over the past ten years. It's embracing its status as a real city. Installing public transport. Redeveloping downtown into a proper centre. Breathing life into areas where I used to see huddled masses around trashcans filled with burning wood in the early evening. As I've said before, Los Angeles is a city filled with so much potential because it is spaced out and it is breathable. It's such a liveable place really – and becomings increasingly liveable as the transportation problems are attacked.

And thus, it's going to have to learn how to deal with its homeless in a new way. As the city focuses inward and there's actually a strong movement toward the core, rather than away from it, the citizenry is going to displace homeless people. Which actually brings up an interesting distinction. Homeless does not mean placeless – as the fascinating article above about San Jose's Jungle proves. The homeless of Los Angeles had a place, and it sounds like they are now increasingly being displaced. An option San Francisco never had.

In time the balance very well may be that Los Angeles start adopting those measures used by San Francisco to mitigate the impact of homelessness there. I don't know why The Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and Dolores Park are not overrun with homeless people, I only recall that they were not. I imagine that is because homeless people were tacitly given a space in the middle of downtown. I imagine the residents of Los Angeles are going to find this an increasingly tricky battle to fight, for homeless people don't have a lot to lose. Perhaps by giving them an appropriate space, Angelenos can have their parks and eat them too.
posted by nickrussell at 8:21 AM on September 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

nickrussell--usually I would put this comment in an email to you but what a great post--thoughtful, reasoned, not inflammatory, caring without casting aspersions and recognizing the human complexity of the problem. Thanks for a good read. Also, I live in Europe part of the year and have come to fully appreciate the difference between the development/role of cities in Europe versus the USA. Thanks Again
posted by rmhsinc at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry I didn't shut up when I said I'd shut up, and made cortex step in. Shame on me.

Anyways, trying to be a little more factual:

show me quality evidence of society-based interventions which are truly effective at addressing this problem

With subjective modifiers like "quality" and "truly", one could dismiss any findings; nevertheless, here are some interesting publications:

The Astonishing Decline of Homelessness in America (

From 5 years ago: U.S. Reports Drop in Homeless Population ( Shockingly attributes a 30% drop in chronic homelessness to Bush administration policies. Never saw that one coming.

The State Of Homelessness In America (56 page PDF) by the Homeless Research Institute has a good deal of data indicating successes and what programs can be attributed to them. Most of the graphs are going down. The paper explains why.

Is homelessness all gone? No. Do people think homelessness is America's #1 problem? No. Are there effective programs in place making positive, measurable improvements? I think it's pretty clear that there are.
posted by sidereal at 9:06 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's hard, for me at least, to not let personal experience color how I view this issue. I live in, to put it politely, a part of Orange County unlikely to be featured on "The Real Housewives". When we moved back to this area last year my wife and I were aware that our housing budget would not realistically allow for us to live in some of the more desirable parts of the county. But we were happy to find a house which met most of our basic requirements in terms of size and features, and importantly, that I could feel comfortable moving my then 7-year old son into since it was a family friendly enough area that there was a nice public park less than a 5-minute walk away.

I should have researched more carefully. The park is completely overrun with homeless, to the point of being actively unwelcoming to families. Despite the prevalence of playground equipment, it is rare to see any kids at this park, with the readily available evidence of drug use, liquor bottles, trash, sleeping bags and shopping carts everywhere and a high probability of being aggressively panhandled. While I like to think of myself as compassionate towards the local homeless population and think it's a tragedy that a country as rich as the US does so little to help its most vulnerable citizens, it is nonetheless sad to me that we have this great accommodation for kids in the local area that has become virtually impossible to use for its intended purpose due to the appropriation by the homeless community.

I'm sure this comment comes off as a classic example of NIMBY liberalism, but it is the reality that I live with everyday in this community. Without trying to deny anybody their experience, comments of the "It's really the rich people who use the parks who are impolite and they don't always clean up their trash either" variety seem to me to detract from the legitimately difficult issue cities face here.
posted by The Gooch at 11:27 AM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I see lots of definitely-have-homes people littering. Trash can five steps away at the bus stop and they throw their coffee cup or empty bag of chips on the ground.

This is true, but it would be inaccurate to say that people with homes and every single homeless person put waste on the street in the same way - just as it would be inaccurate to say that every single homeless person deliberately litters out of a fuck you attitude.

But the truth, I think lies somewhere in the middle.

People have posted upthread about "where can the homeless urinate/defecate/wash themselves without public restrooms", and that's real. But at the same time, there's a difference between going into dense woods/bushes in a park to urinate, and pulling out a penis and publicly urinating in front of people looking right at you, or defecating on the street - both of which I have personally witnessed happening in NYC. And I've also, through my military experience, witnessed how rank people get when there are no showers for a significant period of time. It is...actually not nearly as bad as you would think it is. In fact, with one baby-wipe a day, I personally could not even start to smell for weeks. So it's about more than just the difficulties out there, to the degree of desire not to inconvenience other people.

I think some homeless stay at "I don't want to affect others, I just want to get my shit together/live" while others get to "I don't care about others" and still more get beyond the point of "I don't care" to "Fuck you. Fuck you all."

But it doesn't have to be that way. I actually find looking at Japan's homeless population really fascinating, because it is so significantly different than the US homeless population at large. Particularly in the sense of not wanting to create an obligation on others - no aggressive panhandling, an attempt to keep their space tidy. It seems - at least, from scattered reports - to be lacking that sense of deep anger that some - though definitely not all - homeless get here.

So to me, at least, the question is not just "what do you do about the homeless", but "what do you do about the angry and disruptive homeless"? What do you do about people who aggressively panhandle in subways and curse those who won't give? What do you do about people who strip in front of children? What do you do about homeless people attempt to knife other homeless people on trains as though no one else were around? Or who push people onto train tracks?What do you do about people who are not just dirty but aggressively dirty?
posted by corb at 11:49 AM on September 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Re litter and homeless people:

My mother was a maid. She used to clean apartments before she made a reputation for herself and began serving wealthier clientele. I used to go with her as a teen to pretreat the ovens the night before and carry out the worst of the trash. This apartment complex did not allow children. Many of the residents were there for only 3 or 6 months and were young hotshot military officers attending training at the base. So they were single, childless, college educated with a good income and excellent benefits.

Trust me when I say lots of well off people have more disgusting living conditions than the litter strewn tents and sleeping bags you see on the street. They just have the ability to hide their squalor behind closed doors. If you are some disgusting pig and then end up on the street, you continue to live in squalor but can no longer readily hide the nasty mess. Not all homeless people live that way. The ones that do would likely be just as gross if they had a home. Ask any landlord or apartment manager. They can provide you colorful stories of nightmare tenants who just trashed the place.*

As for corb's query about what to do about the worst of the lot: I will refer you upthread to nickrussell's comment. If you take better care of your citezens generally, it never has to get that bad. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Given the reality that some people will never be super productive (and we aren't going to drown them at birth like unwanted kittens), it is better for society as a whole to accommodate that reality in some humane fashion. You don't have to have a shred of compassion for them. You can do it out of enlightened self interest so you don't ever have to see them take a piss in front of you or harrass you for money.

* Since I have self-identified as homeless and I know people will wonder: My campsite is impeccably clean. I am on the street to get myself well. It is a form of medical quarantine. My homeless website advocates that homeless people should clean up after themselves and not litter for health reasons, but it doesn't get much traffic so I don't expect it to make a big dent in the problem.
posted by Michele in California at 1:39 PM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

Eric Cartman Jumps the Homeless.
posted by buzzman at 3:00 PM on September 1, 2013

Re the "aggressively dirty": We could fund more drop-in/day centers with showers and laundry facilities and health clinics. We could fund more mental health care generally. We could offer more wet housing. We could offer a better net so that when people do fall - and they always will, because people gonna people - they fall less far and less hard and stay down for less time.

Any of these is less expensive than throwing people in jail, which we've tried and which doesn't work. Or we could do what some Nevada mental hospitals apparently do, which is to put their indigent just-released patients on a bus one-way to San Francisco, with a couple days' meds, no money, no plan, and no contacts.
posted by rtha at 3:42 PM on September 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

You get over your false belief that you are entitled to a shared environment that is populated only by clean-to-your-standards people.

No, it's not false. The courts have ruled that you do have the legal right to an environment free of aggressively malodorous people. Even on Spring Street, in the condos adjacent to this park.

The issue here is not your delicate nose, but an actual public health threat. I could elaborate, but please do not make me describe one of the downtown LA homeless guys everybody called "The Drooler."

For some odd reason, the LAWeekly link in that FPP does not work for me, here's a good link.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:03 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Aggressively dirty" = getting so dirty that you sort of become safe from most sexual assault and even the police only deal with you when they absolutely have to- they sure as hell don't want to search you for anything. There are a couple of folks that were near my work who used this strategy deliberately.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:59 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Homeless Bound. (mostly Skid Row 2013)

I had to give up at the one hour mark when the cops tasered some poor bastard like five times.
posted by bukvich at 6:47 PM on September 1, 2013

I get that you're trying to be all bad-ass about your urban sophistication, but seriously, you have no idea. Millions of people like you drive through this shit every day and they are blind to the reality of it all.

So I will make you an offer. Next time I get to LA, I will take you downtown sometime after rush hour, when the streets are empty and the homeless are bedding down, and I will drive you down Rat Alley.

I went to some difficulty to locate this alley in Google Maps, I think I found it, but it would be easier to be sure if I was on the ground in a car. I can't link to the street view, so go to Google Maps, input "527 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA" and look north. Behind Giannini Place, there's a little alley one lane wide. I used to drive through Rat Alley as a short cut when I got stuck in traffic, it was always clear because nobody would dare drive through it. I once drove down Rat Alley with my girlfriend in the car, we lived together near Skid Row so she was used to it, but she screamed in terror the entire way.

The horror of Rat Alley is not so much the overflowing dumpsters, or the stench, or the rats, or the homeless people laying on the ground amongst the rats. The horror is that the rats seem to be the cleanest part of Rat Alley.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:52 AM on September 2, 2013

Okay, charlie. You win homeless knowledge cred, and the homeless on Skid Row are more homeless than we could possibly imagine.
posted by rtha at 8:57 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Charlie, what WE'RE saying is that that isn't typical. Not totally sure what your point is.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:08 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dear Charlie,

I am really in a bad mood for a long list of reasons. I kind of thought of this the other day but hesitated to say it, knowing I was already cranky. But you are kind of reminding me of, say, when a female forum member who was previously raped or molested attempts to insist that ALL MEN ARE BASICALLY RAPISTS AT HEART or the like. Uh, no. The fact that she was treated horribly by one or several people does not prove that all men everywhere are scum who should be promptly beheaded in order to make the world a better place. Similarly, the fact that you have personally witnessed terrible things among the homeless does not prove that all homeless people fit this total dregs of humanity, scum and villainy model you are trying so desperately to pin upon them.

For anyone other than Charlie who wants some actual facts, the book used as the main text for my college class on Homelessness and Public Policy is called "Tell Them Who I Am." It is a wonderful book written by a man dying of cancer who quit his job to write this book rather than spend his last few months on earth punching a clock. I highly recommend it. Here is an article about the class (or one similar). The class used to be available online for free (without credit). I paid for it and took it for credit. Googling does not get me a link to it. I found an old link of mine to the class. It no longer works.

Some general observations:

The highly visible homeless of the "street people" variety are the tip of the iceberg. There are many more less visible living out of a car, underemployed, and similar who are living in a grey zone between conventional life and the fringes of society.

Lots of military veterans are homeless. I have spent most of my life around the military and I believe that this isn't simply a function of failure to fit in to normal society. The military teaches you how to camp and live off the land. Many veterans have a small check and access to good benefits, such as free medical care. The almost socialist system of the American military is something civilians seem to just not understand. Military members are citizens of the U.S. federal government more than of some local place. If you have a military ID, you can cash a check at the PX at any installation even though you are not a local. You are actively rejected to some degree by the locals, in ways that are beyond the scope of this discussion to get into, but in some ways it does not matter because the umbrella of federal benefits makes it less critical for you to put down roots and become an established part of a local community.

I do not currently have a military ID. I don't know if I could get one again. But I am technically entitled to one as long as I do not remarry. I never camped until I became homeless but I did move around, and I do still have some sense of protection from that umbrella of federal benefits. It might be hard to prove and thus access, but I technically am entitled to free medical care as long as I do not remarry, which makes me kind of psychologically immune to a lot of the worries about medical insurance, etc, that many Americans experience as a major deterrent to changing jobs or moving.

The vast majority of street people are male. Women are more likely to be classified as "hidden homeless" -- sleeping on the couch at a relative's house instead of literally in the street (I did that for nearly a year a few years back while divorcing). Services for homeless women and families are generally better than for men. Some men on the street are fairly capable of getting casual income, traveling at will, camping comfortably, etc. But the men who are in real need of help are hard pressed to find it. For example, the wait list for getting shelter for a single male in San Diego is months long. For a woman, it can be a few weeks. As another example, the shelter I volunteered at years ago served families and single women. Single men were not welcome. Sexism is alive and well and hurts men the most for this particular population.

Certain subcultures, like Hispanic culture and some immigrant cultures, are much more inclined to double up and thus be living in overcrowded housing rather than out on the street. My mom is an immigrant and I spent part of my childhood with other relatives doubled up with us.

Before a health crisis and divorce derailed my career plans, I was working towards becoming an urban planner. I was pursuing a BS in Environmental Resource Management with a concentration in housing (and kind of fought to get the class on Homelessness and Public Policy counted towards that). In the 1950's, the average new home was about 1200 sq ft, with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and the average family had three kids. It was simple, basic housing. It didn't have a microwave or dishwasher and often did not have air conditioning. You also had more SRO's, boarding houses and the like than are available today. In 2000, the average new home was over 2000 sq ft, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and contained amenities which did not exist in the 1950's. The mythical average family had less than two kids. Suffice it to say that in real terms housing costs have gone up quite a lot.

The postwar 1950's saw a strong skew in the population towards nuclear families. Since then, the population has diversified. In the interest of keeping this short-ish, suffice it to say that our housing stock is designed to fit an idealized nuclear family while that is increasingly uncommon. The poor fit between the McMansions we build and the needs and means of the actual people is part of what is fueling a rise in homelessness. People who in the 1950's would have rented a room, either an SRO or in a boarding house, are now unable to find suitable options and are increasingly SOL

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, an SRO in San Francisco was about $1000/mo. IIRC, at that time, a full time minimum wage job paid less than $1000/mo. So the cheapest thing available in San Francisco could not be covered at all with a minimum wage job, even assuming you could get all food, clothing, etc for free somehow. And I have known people on the street who had jobs but it just wasn't enough to get them off the street.

What surprises many people to learn is that many people on the street have income such as social security, retirement, disability, or alimony. It is just not enough to buy them a middle class life.

I don't have some fabulous punchline with which to wrap this up. I will just stop here, in part because my tablet is running low on juice.
posted by Michele in California at 9:34 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks for that, Michelle. I hadn't thought about that regarding the military but it makes a lot of sense.

In 2000, the average new home was over 2000 sq ft, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths

I am all in favor of the amenities but dang- I am grateful I don't have to keep 2000 sq ft up. Our house is from 1913 and it's 850 sq ft and even that is bigger than I've had to keep up in a long time.

posted by small_ruminant at 11:05 PM on September 2, 2013

Lots of military veterans are homeless. I have spent most of my life around the military and I believe that this isn't simply a function of failure to fit in to normal society. The military teaches you how to camp and live off the land. Many veterans have a small check and access to good benefits, such as free medical care.

I think I'm totally one of those people who thinks that many men contain the possibility for rape inside them that you're talking about, but just on the military veteran piece:

There are a lot of military veterans who are homeless. They are often invisible, but not just for the reasons that MiC notes - there are other factors as well. The first is that they have a support network that is geographically spread out. I've hosted homeless veterans in my home. Why? Isn't that dangerous, you ask? No, I served with them. They were friends. Homeless veterans aren't some relic of the distant past, it's happening right now. And they would travel across the country, bouncing from guy-they-knew to guy-they-knew. Or calling us to find out if we knew someone in the area they happened to be.

One of the reasons for veteran homelessness is the difficulty of getting into apartments, particularly ones that have credit checks. Most veterans I know have terrible credit - even if it's not their fault. They'll deploy somewhere and the company will refuse to honor the SCRA, or they'll get divorced from afar, or their spouse will run up credit and take off. (This is, btw, not a gendered thing, men do it almost exactly as much.)

I do know homeless vets who camp off the land, too. One guy I know buried all his possessions in black trash bags in the forest when he got evicted, and started living on the land and emerging only to do temporary work. Another reason it's hard to notice them is that they're often very clean. The habit of being clean in the military is really hard to break - and if they're wearing fatigues (which many aren't, but some do) those things are the easiest things to clean and keep clean in the world. They also tend not to sleep in front of other people - so they'll retreat to somewhere totally remote to actually sleep, where they're not at risk of attack.

The "homeless vets" that people often see on the streets are usually not actual veterans - they're people pretending to be veterans in order to gain sympathy and/or wearing the clothes and gear because it's cheap and tough. I know, because every single time - every single time - I see someone who appears to be a homeless vet I go out of my way to talk to them, because I want to help them if I can. Most of them get lost on common acronyms - things you never forget - or they say they were in impossible units at impossible times, or they can't name a single base they served at or where they went through training.
posted by corb at 5:59 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think I'm totally one of those people who thinks that many men contain the possibility for rape inside them that you're talking about

There is quite a large difference between "many men contain the possibility for rape inside them" and "ALL MEN...(are evil incarnate for simply possessing a penis)" Thus, I seriously doubt I was "talking about you."

That distinction is the same distinction we are struggling to make in this thread between "ALL HOMELESS...(are scum and villainy)" and "Although, sure, the dregs of society often wind up on the street, no, not all homeless are like that. Please don't promote that idea. It is prejudice and it makes it impossible to try to find humane, viable solutions to a problem that is plenty hard to solve as is." You are clearly able to make that nuanced distinction here in this thread and I very much appreciate your contributions to this discussion.

Part of why homelessness is so difficult to solve is because it isn't a singular monolithic problem but it gets framed that way. People who wind up homeless are almost without exception people with a very long list of problems who, one day, came up short for resources to cope and things came unraveled, often overnight. As I more or less said previously on MetaFilter (in an AskMe), one less problem or one more resource can make the difference between housed but struggling and homeless. Solving any one of their problems can help them get back off the street.

This seems to be a tough idea for a lot of people, who frame The Problem as "homelessness" and get overwhelmed at trying to figure out how to "help the homeless" once they realize they are dealing with some raftload of complex, interrelated issues. At the risk of being accused of narcissism, let's look at the complex solutions I need to get my life back on track:

I have a genetic disorder which results in a compromised immune system. The condition is very expensive and it also makes most normal jobs a disaster for me. So I need two interrelated things in order to get off the street and have personal stability: 1) I need to get well enough to work consistently and 2) I need work that won't make me sick again so I don't wind up back on the street. I have to solve both conditions simultaneously. Addressing only one or the other will not cut it. A one sided approach would again come unraveled and land me back on the street at some point.

I am gradually getting well. I do freelance work online when I am well enough. When I tried to force myself to work while sick, it destroyed my evaluations, lowering both the paygrade and availability of work. I have worked hard to get my rating back up and establish protocols to account for a variety of issues, including poor eyesight (in part because of my condition), being on the street, etc. That is on track and moving forward but very, very slowly. So it looks promising but so far is yielding very small amounts of money, enough to help me eat more consistently while on the street, but nowhere near enough to get me off the street.

I also have several websites. I would like that to become an income source. Those plans suffer from some of the same obstacles my freelance writing suffers from: Typos, poor quality and inconsistent output makes it hard to get anywhere. Additionally, the fact that I am homeless makes it hard to get anyone to take me seriously. This puts up additional obstacles to development.

There are other issues. I have a mountain of health related debts and I need to be super picky about housing. I am only just now beginning the research concerning what kind of housing arrangement might work and not simply make me sick again. Getting sick again would again result in high expenses combined with low productivity and, sooner or later, come unraveled. Progress on any one of my problems makes the others easier to tackle. At some point, solving things one by one will hit a tipping point.

However, I have a lot of education. I have an AA in Humanities, I am a few classes short of a BS, I have a Certificate in GIS that is the equivalent of graduate work and I have a spiffy technical certificate my previously employer paid for. I also had more college math when I graduated high school than a lot of people have with a bachelor's degree. So I am more qualified than many homeless people to figure out a long term solution for my problems and implement it. In contrast, a lot of programs to "help the homeless" try to get them off the street without addressing the personal issues that landed them there to begin with. The result is a high rate of rescidivism. Some of these programs become a revolving door for a lot people, who need whatever help they can get and cannot figure out for themselves that the program itself is sometimes part of why they fail. (For example, since my health is my big lynchpin issue, I will not go to a shelter because it would help keep me sick. Other people often have similar issues. A high percentage of homeless people have serious health problems but do not necessarily recognize that emergency shelter may be undermining their health, thus undermining their ability to take care of themselves in both the short and long term.)

But the reality is that I do not need some comprehensive program that solves all my problems. I need a thread to pull that will start to unravel this mess. I have that thread. I will eventually solve it. Getting a smattering of support instead of an avalanche of hate can and does help me move forward (I have experienced both of those things). Homelessness is not solvable as some monolithic "homeless" issue. But you can help individuals solve real individual, specific problems and begin eroding the problem from the edges. Light one small candle instead of cursing the dark. If everyone does that, there will soon be a bon fire and much less darkness.

Thank you corb for doing your share. It matters more than you may realize.
posted by Michele in California at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

With all due respect to Michele, I was talking about Skid Row. This is the subject of the OP, a small park on Spring Street, at the edge of Skid Row.

This is not an area where homeless vets can bury their possessions in the forest and live off the land. This is a concrete jungle, where the most desperate people are driven to acts of desperation.

Just as an example, bukvich posted this link:

Homeless Bound. (mostly Skid Row 2013)

I had to give up at the one hour mark when the cops tasered some poor bastard like five times.

It's a good thing you stopped there. The cops beat the guy to death. The sequence ends with a horrific color photo of his face.

I've seen plenty of things just as bad. Everyone on Skid Row knows they are one moment away from a random death. Only a hardened criminal underclass is prepared to deal with this, and deal it out themselves.

Of course this is not necessarily representative of homelessness in other places. Except when it is.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2013

Charlie, in all seriousness, do you have a point? If so, what is it? Because I honestly don't know what your point is.

From your last link, which is about a study of people who pushed others to their death on the subway tracks: The offenders had a lot in common. They were all unemployed, mostly men, and mostly homeless.

A) The crazies who pushed people to their deaths on subway tracks were only mostly homeless but they were all crazy, almost all of them actively hallucinating at the time of the incident. This fits with my statements that personal problems lead to homelessness not the other way around. It really does not support your attempts to make some kind of sweeping negative characterization of The Homeless. Or, if it does, I genuinely do not see how.

B) They were also mostly male, which fits with my observation that sexism is alive and well and, amongst our neediest citizens, this hurts men far more than women. Men who have been abused or have a psychiatric disorder or are unemployed generally get a lot less sympathy and tolerance and help than women do. Making societal support for peoplecwith such problems less gendered would go a long way towards cleaning up the worst of these kinds of problems.

The conclusion of the article:
What would he recommend policymakers do?

"The most important steps policymakers can take to reduce subway pushing are the same steps that would reduce mass murder and many other forms of violence, could reduce the burden of mental illness on society, and could ameliorate the suffering of large numbers of people: increase the odds that the seriously mentally ill take the right medication," he wrote.
In other words, the article is only incidentally about homelessness. It is mostly about mental illness. Yes, untreated mental illness lands a lot of people on the street. But it is not a Homeless problem. It is a human problem. Mental illness can impact rich and poor alike. Addressing it fits with my suggestion here that helping people with any of their problems can erode the problem of homelessness. They do not already have to be homeless for that to be true. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

So, with all due respect, what point would you like to make here? Because I don't think I am getting it.
posted by Michele in California at 9:37 PM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

As well, conflating mental illness with "criminal underclass" is... unhelpful, to say the least.
posted by eviemath at 4:01 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

This seems to be a tough idea for a lot of people, who frame The Problem as "homelessness" and get overwhelmed at trying to figure out how to "help the homeless" once they realize they are dealing with some raftload of complex, interrelated issues.

I think this is part of it, as well as "What Is The Problem Of Homelessness?" Because it's a hard thing to define. Is the problem "Homeless people are negatively impacting our lives"? Is it "I have compassion and don't want to see people forced to live on the street?" Is it "I don't want to see homeless/they drive the property values down"? Because all of these things have very different solutions, and some of them are unsolvable.

For example: it's not as simple as providing psychiatric help to people who are crazy. Some people do not wish to take said help or medications. Should they be forced to do so? In that case, aren't you opening up yet another raft of problems? And what about people who simply cannot or do not want to live alone in housing?

At the risk of sounding oversimplified, people want to solve the problems they want to solve. They rarely react well to hearing "Oh, if you want to solve this problem, you need to solve this other problem that you may not have been prepared to tackle." And that's what makes this really, really tricky.

It reminds me of a lot of the new laws against feeding the homeless - particularly the ones "for their own good." Like Mayor Bloomberg, who is concerned someone might feed the homeless high-fat foods, which I know is in fact the most pressing plight of the homeless and totally not his police. Or the ones that suggest if people were allowed to feed the homeless, they might poison them, and poison is bad, so it all has to go.

Men who have been abused or have a psychiatric disorder or are unemployed generally get a lot less sympathy and tolerance and help than women do. Making societal support for peoplecwith such problems less gendered would go a long way towards cleaning up the worst of these kinds of problems.

I think this is tricky, particularly when you consider that a lot of the sympathy and tolerance and help for women is all new, and is the other side of a pendulum that has been swinging against them for a very long time. I am sympathetic to the problem of homeless men, but I am more sympathetic to the actual homeless women. And so with limited resources, I'd rather the women were taken care of, even though the men are the dangerous ones. (Millions for defense, not one penny for tribute!) I don't want to reward that behavior by giving the most help to the most antisocial.
posted by corb at 7:07 AM on September 4, 2013

Even if you want to take the position that helping homeless men is rewarding anti social behaviour wouldn't reducing the offender pool help out the victims?
posted by Mitheral at 8:33 AM on September 4, 2013

My position isn't that helping homeless men is rewarding antisocial behavior - it's that helping homeless men specifically because you think they will attack women otherwise doesn't actually help fix the problem that is making them attack women, and essentially pays them off not to attack in future, without addressing the root cause. It's kind of like... so, let's say you have a guy who is assaulting women in a sexual fashion because he thinks he is entitled to sex and women aren't giving it to him. You could "fix the problem" by giving him access to sex (through prostitution, 'getting him a girlfriend'), but the root problem is that he thinks he is entitled to sex at other people's expense. Applying this here: let's say you have some homeless men who think they are entitled to attack other people who have more than them, or who inspire their resentment. You could "fix the problem" by giving them access to equal resources, but that doesn't fix the root problem, which is that they think they are entitled to everything that other people have, and are willing to attack other people if they don't have it.

I would thus rather spend money on the people who are not attacking others, than spend money on people who are attacking others and hope they take the money and stop attacking people.

NB: Not all homeless men are dangerous, I was reacting specifically to a statement that some were and so getting them help would stop the problem.
posted by corb at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2013

So, with all due respect, what point would you like to make here? Because I don't think I am getting it.

The point is I am responding to the LA Times article in the post, which mentions homeless problems in specific downtown LA parks:

1. Grand Park, the LA City Hall plaza
2. Spring Street Park
3. Pershing Square
4. Various parks near Olivera Street. Father Sierra Park is pictured, with people sleeping in front of Union Station, near the railyards. La Plaza de Cultura y Artes museum grounds are mentioned.

The article discusses the City's measures to discourage homeless from inhabiting the park. And in response, mostly everyone is denying that such measures are necessary, because look at the gentle homelessfolk in Santa Monica etc. That is not what this is about.

The parks are all near Skid Row. It is a war zone. The parks are all within LAPD Central Precinct. bukvich linked to a video of LAPD Central officers beating a homeless man to death. That is how the LAPD treats this area. That is what would happen inside the parks, even in the toddler playground, if measures weren't taken to discourage them from living there, to the point of putting it behind iron bars.

And yet, business is conducted every day in the Garment District, the Gem District, the Fashion District, the Toy District, and the Financial District, all adjacent or within the Skid Row District. Tens of thousands of people commute into this area every day. The homeless try to eke out a living by pandhandling or preying on these people. Then at night, they leave, the homeless population is the majority, and Skid Row turns back into a war zone.

Hunter S Thompson once lampooned the philosophers of the French Enlightenment like de Tocqueville, misquoting him as saying, 'In America, both the rich and poor have equal rights to sleep on a park bench and starve to death." That is my point. The homeless advocates take the pseudo-de Tocqueville position. It is ludicrous.

I focused on the example of Spring Street park, since the article uses it as a point of irony. Some rich fuck condo owner calls the cops to report people shooting up in Spring Street Park. The cops arrest them, and Mr. Rich Fuck discovers that the junkie under arrest is his cousin. Oh the irony. O tempora, o mores.

No, it's not ironic at all. Spring Street Park used to be a parking lot. When the daily commuters leave and the lot is empty, the homeless move in and sleep in cardboard shantys around the edge of the lot. In the morning, they are all kicked out. In some areas, they are literally scoured out, by street cleaning trucks spraying high pressure hot water. And then the cars return to park for the day.

So the City decided to get rid of that, and build a park that is family friendly, to encourage people to live in the city center. You have only two options. You can declare the equality of all men, and let both the rich and poor sleep on the park benches. Only the homeless will choose to do so. Or you can understand the realities of the situation, you built a public park with a playground for toddlers, right in the middle of a war zone. You must turn it into a fortress and keep the homeless out.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:22 PM on September 4, 2013

Kind of in response to some of the things corb has said:

Yeah, that's not what I was saying at all.

A) I have zero desire to see people legally required to take prescription drugs. In fact, I am strongly opposed to the idea.

B) I have zero desire to reward bad behavior. That tends to promote said behavior. I honestly have no idea how advocating for more humane, compassionate treatment of men can get interpreted in that manner.

C) Frankly, while I do not think programs to "help the homeless" should go away entirely, I am far more interested in resolving the societal problems fueling homelessness than I am in trying to "help the homeless" per se. If you help the people and give them more viable options, a lot fewer of them will wind up homeless. Focusing on helping the homeless while not fixing the problems which cause homelessness is kind of like trying to fund a bigger fire department while telling people it is fine to discard lit cigarette butts in dry brush.

At the top of my wish list in that regard is closing the yawning chasm between the existing housing stock and the types of housing people actually need. That is quite a tall order but it in no way requires anyone to help the homeless per se nor to reward bad behavior. It does involve giving people more viable options. It involves changing zoning laws, making financial instruments available, and reworking public space and physical infrastructure (which relates back to the original title of this fpp).

I kind of would like to bow out of this discussion. I have strong views on the topic rooted in years of studying how to fix problems of this type -- complex human/social problems. But it is never perceived as expertise or an offer of assistance. It is always perceived as narcissism, ego, and trying to be top dog. Attempts to clarify and communicate get framed by others as me arguing with them, as me trying to win something by making them lose. I see no point in continuing because, basically, "even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat."

In response to charlie: That was a much better comment than any of your others. I still do not agree with you. But perhaps the rest of this discussion will go better because some homeless loser that you would like to demonize for existing tried treating you like a human being instead of demonizing you the way so many others here seemed inclined to do. (Speaking of irony.)

Now, adieu.
posted by Michele in California at 12:36 PM on September 4, 2013

For the first time, I have to slightly disagree with Michele in California. charlie don't surf's last comment was indeed much better in use of language when referring to homeless people, which is to be commended. But it brings up, or perhaps clarifies, a second problem. As I read it, at least, it seems to be saying that a main problem with homeless people in parks near LA's Skid Row is that young children might witness police violence against homeless people, and this would be harmful to the children. While I certainly agree that directly witnessing violence (as opposed to carefully mediated discussions of basic ethics) is harmful to children, this hardly seems to be the fault or responsibility of the homeless population being targeted by police violence in the example cited.

As well, the two choices charlie don't surf gives us for resolving this conflict over park uses are as falsely restricted as, to continue the war zone metaphor, the binary choice between bombing Afghanistan or doing nothing to help people oppressed under the Taliban that was presented to the US people by the Bush administration, or the choice between bombing Syria or doing nothing to help resolve or minimize the harms of the Syrian civil war being presented by the current administration.

charlie don't surf's analysis also seems to ignore the history of the Skid Row area as a neighborhood where LA's homeless population has been intentionally concentrated by decades of city policy.
posted by eviemath at 4:11 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought it was too obvious to state that the City deliberately concentrated the homeless in Skid Row. Services are concentrated in this area, which helped institutionalize poverty in Skid Row. This history is also associated with racism and segregation. For example, when Japanese and Japanese-Americans were deported from Little Tokyo during WWII and placed in concentration camps, Little Tokyo quickly became Bronzeville.

When you refer to my "binary solution" to the Spring Street Park problem, I am speaking of definitive solutions today. Solving security problems in the park tonight are not going to be solved by subtler, long term solutions to the entire problem homelessness and rampant criminality in the area.

I am not suggesting that the Spring Street Park problem is about children witnessing violence. I am explicitly stating that the problem is the risk of children (and adults) becoming direct victims of violence by the homeless. Although I admit you do have a valid point about witnessing traumatic events. I am still to this day traumatized by memories of The Drooler, having witnessed him nearly daily at close visual and olfactory range.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:09 PM on September 5, 2013

This is going to be interesting.

"...can house up to 750 people. Plus 552 acres, two swimming pools, eight wells, a water treatment plant, agricultural facilities, sports fields, metal and wood shops, a state-of-the-art kitchen, a library and also a chapel."
posted by buzzman at 6:48 PM on September 6, 2013

I don't get the resistance to Charlie don't surf's posts. They're blunt. And as such, seems to hurt feelings here. But it doesn't look like anyone can seriously contest what he says. Ok so he doesn't offer solutions that can fix skid row. But then again, nobody here can, either. If you disagree, please come here to L.A. and fix it for us! Because as far as I can tell, charlie don't surf hits the nail so clearly on the head, it should make you squirm in discomfort.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:46 PM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

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