Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Anyone who has spent even a short period of time in California’s cities will immediately notice the homelessness crisis that has grown to stunning proportions in recent years.The “explanation” that’s often thrown around is that people who become homeless travel to the Golden State, where, presumably, the mild weather blunts some of the difficulties of living without a roof over one’s head. But this, like most justifications for inhumane problems, is just that: a justification to make Californians feel slightly less terrible every time they come across a person in need on the streets of some of the wealthiest, most progressive cities in the world.
As Tommy Newman, a lawyer and a senior director at the nonprofit United Way, points out in the latest installment of the “Scheer Intelligence” podcast, a quarter of the nation’s homeless live in California, earning it the shameful moniker of “Homeless Capital of America.”
That’s not the only staggering number related to the issue. “About 70% of the people who are living outside [in Los Angeles County]last lived indoors in L.A. County, and of that subset, 50% lived here for more than a decade indoors,” Newman tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on the podcast. The numbers, which clearly debunk the common rationalization about homelessness, should lead us all to the crucial conclusion Newman has drawn from the statistics.
“This is a homegrown challenge,” he says.
“Some people will come here, but if your whole life falls apart and you’re in Iowa, you’re not going to say, ‘All right, well, I’ve lost everything, and now I’m going to California’—you’re stuck.”
Jerry Brown, the state’s four-term governor, considered the crisis so dire that, as Newman points out, he thought that climate change would be solved sooner than homelessness.Newman, however, isn’t willing to give up on the pressing issue, and thanks to his work and that of his colleagues, big changes in both policy and popular opinion have already begun to materialize. Two Los Angeles ballot measures—Proposition HHH and Measure H—aimed at creating affordable housing for thousands—passed in the miraculous span of four months. The efforts to pass these measures were documented in the 2018 film “The Advocates,” in which Newman appears, and which is available for viewing on streaming services. While the progress springing from these policies will take time, Newman warns, it will take place.
One of the main difficulties faced by United Way and others who advocate for helping homeless people is how Californians feel about housing, especially one specific group that is stuck on a suburban Nimbyism and rejects zoning for more affordable multifamily housing.
“It’s white people who are primarily the challenge on this housing question,” Newman tells Scheer. “White people support more multifamily housing, more apartments—whether they’re affordable or not, more apartments—to the tune of about 40%. And people who are not white support apartments to the tune of about 60%. So it is white people who own homes who are the cause of the homelessness crisis, and will need to be a part of the solution in some way, unless we can build a larger coalition around them and create that pressure.”
Scheer, who has lived in California most of his adult life, sees the question of how we approach homelessness amid blatant affluence as one that gets to the core of our humanity.
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