Not all West Hollywood’s residents live in expensive single-family homes or condos or apartments. Over the past few years there has been a small, but constantly growing number who live on our sidewalks.
Last year the estimate was 87, nearly double the 43 from the year before. The number of homeless people in WeHo from this year’s January count inexplicably won’t be released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority until July. But a walk down Santa Monica Boulevard suggests it has grown.
Getting those folks off the sidewalks and into housing isn’t an easy issue. One reason is that it’s a regional issue, and unlike Donald Trump’s vision for U.S. relations with Mexico, WeHo has no plans to build a wall on La Brea Avenue.
Perhaps no one knows the complexity of the issue better than Corri Planck, a city social services supervisor, who was asked earlier this year to coordinate city programs that assist the homeless and help get them off the streets. As Planck has explained, some are mentally ill, some are addicted to drugs, some for whatever reason just want to live on their own.
“Have you ever been camping?,” one homeless fellow asked when I stopped on the sidewalk to meet him. “This is like camping. All I need is a shower.”
There are, however, interesting efforts around the country to engage with the homeless that might merit consideration in WeHo. They don’t remove homeless people from the streets (L.A. County and the City of West Hollywood have programs to help with that). But they do provide services that can put smiles on the faces of homeless people and make it more likely for us to see them as neighbors rather than “transients,” which is the government jargon for “homeless.” That viewpoint is an essential first step if we are to get the homeless into homes.
Below are a few efforts underway in other cities. WEHOville would like to hear your comments on these and your suggestions of other services that could give our homeless residents the help they need.
Homeless people aren’t inherently dirty, although their clothes might be. After all, they don’t have access to a washer or dryer or the money to use a laundromat. If you’ve ever had to put on an overused shirt or skirt or pair of pants because you’re behind on your laundry chores, you know how uncomfortable that can be.
Denver, according to the L.A. Times, “finds a simple and innovative way to help the homeless — wash their clothes.” The Denver laundry truck roams the city three times a week, providing washing, drying and folding services for homeless people.
“Walking around in dirty clothes only furthers your feelings of being an outcast,” said Marcus Harris, the laundry truck captain. “This is about basic human dignity.”
One big barrier between homeless people in WeHo and those of us who pass them on the sidewalks is how they look. The dirty hands and feet, the smudged faces — our aversion is a natural reaction.
So why not offer them showers? The Saban Clinic does at its locations on Beverly Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. But given their limited hours and distance, most of WeHo’s homeless residents don’t use them.
A better solution might be mobile showers, which are available in big cities across the country. In St. Louis, Mo., for example, a volunteer working with the homeless realized that giving them free soap and shampoo was meaningless if they didn’t have a place to use it. So Jake Austin created “Shower to the People,” a van that rolls throughout St. Louis, offering free showers to homeless people. The non-profit works with a plumbers union, a linen supplier, a truck company and a religious organization to provide its services.
In Los Angeles and San Francisco, there is Lava Mae, which offers similar services. Its shower bus makes eight stops during weekdays with one in Venice and others in downtown Los Angeles, including two on Skid Row. Doniece Sandoval launched the non-profit in San Francisco in 2013 by converting public transportation buses into showers and toilets on wheels. Should it be asked to expand to West Hollywood?
Another way to improve the self-esteem of the homeless (and the way we view them) is with a haircut. In many cities, individual hairdressers give haircuts to homeless people. That has happened in West Hollywood, where a woman who WEHOville hasn’t been able to identify was seen grooming a homeless man on a sidewalk recently.
This Spring, two hairdressers in Brisbane, Australia, took a small trailer and turned it into a mobile barber shop. Danielle Hannah and Teresa Reed got support from the Queensland government and local sponsors. Their goal is 1,000 free haircuts by the end of the year.
“It’s not just walking out with that bit of pride and dignity,” Hannah said in an interview with ABC in Australia, “but to feel like you belong again, you feel accepted.”
About six months ago on a Sunday morning, I stopped on the sidewalk on Santa Monica Boulevard for a chat with Johnny, one of WeHo’s less-than-transient homeless people. Johnny, pictured above, shared some crackers and cheese that a woman had dropped off — leftovers from a party the night before. But more important, he shared about himself and how he makes those artful signs proclaiming his homelessness. A few months later, I spotted Johnny sitting on the sidewalk at Robertson and Santa Monica boulevards, screaming loudly and alarming the people around him. I walked up and asked, with a smile: “Johnny, what the hell is going on?” Johnny stopped screaming, smiled back and said “hello.”
My brief interaction with Johnny didn’t take him off the street. But the fact that I always acknowledge him (and recently praised him for his new haircut) just may make him feel more like he’s one of us.
There are organizations in other cities that try to interact with homeless people and coach others on how to do it. The theory is that acknowledging their humanity will help a bit in the very complex effort to pull them into life.
Hope for New York, a non-profit that deals with homeless people, offers a lot of advice on how to engage with your homeless neighbors.
Among those tips:
— Don’t offer a homeless person money for food. Offer instead to buy him or her some food and share it. A brief conversation over a burger or hot dog satisfies the hunger but also tugs your homeless fellow diner back into the community a bit. If you don’t have time for that meal, consider carrying a piece of fruit or a granola bar that you can offer.
— Don’t engage with a homeless person of the opposite sex alone, and especially if he or she isn’t in a very public place.
— When a homeless person asks you for money, look him or her in the eye and introduce yourself with a smile. Offer a handshake, and if you have time stop for a brief conversation. You can buy a meal, or even offer to buy that person’s sign, if you find it as engaging as I might. And the next time you see that homeless WeHo resident, remember to say hello.
— Once you’ve gotten to know some of WeHo’s homeless residents, consider banding with a couple of friends and inviting them to a quick dinner somewhere. Astroburger, Fat Burger, McDonalds are places they’re likely to feel comfortable. Spend the meal asking them questions about their lives, not talking about yours. You’ll learn that they are human beings, and they will begin to feel accepted.
I’d suggest being cautious if a homeless person shows obvious signs of anger or violence such as screaming or cursing or making threatening gestures. If he or she really seems to pose a potential danger, call 911.
Please share your ideas in the comments below.
Beverly Hills does a great job in having businesses display this sign in their windows (it reads): “Give me spare change and I may never get off these streets. Give to organizations that could really help me and you could save my life. It’s up to you” Under that is says, “NOT SPARE CHANGE” “Please give to a charity not a panhandler” http://www.beverlyhills.org/change. Cities like San Francisco and Portland that give no incentive for people with addictions to get help have only seen their city inundated with homeless with their numbers soaring and the situation getting worse by the year.… Read more »
The homeless are people. Like all of us, be living in a state of intense personal distress. I want to keep my humanity and not further degrade those trapped in homeless poverty. HOWEVER, many of the homeless commit criminal acts against residents and people walking down the street. I think this is the same conundrum dealing with the homeless population across the country since it became a crisis. So I remain mixed. I’m never personally threatened, but I know many who are (not to be sexist, but women are targeted by the homeless more often) For once – I have… Read more »
The Biblical admonition to take care of the poor, and the demonstrable compassion to do so throughout history was at a time when there were no public services available to provide all the things the homeless need to survive. Today there are. Our tax dollars pay for it. All the transients need to do is access them. There is no reason for transients to rely on the kindness of strangers for their survival.
I read this article yesterday and read the comments. I was mildly dismayed at the lack of concern for our growing and perplexing homeless issue here in West Hollywood. I started to think that perhaps showers and barbers should be set up to help our transient neighbors. However… On my 6:30AM walk to the gym, a deranged-looking homeless man in his 40s or 50s lunged at me on the corner of Santa Monica & La Cienega. I jumped back, but kept walking. What surprised me was that I was not surprised. This is our normal. A block later, I tried… Read more »
“Homeless” is a liberal “feel good” term. These drugged/alcohol burnouts never had a home and if you gave them a brand new house it would be a trashed out garbage dump in 3 days.
New WeHo Marketing campaign slogan: WeHo The Creative City with Homeless in Every Yard and on Every Doorstep.
Housing, Treatment , Sustainability through a path towards stability seems only logical. Making the homeless clean and fluffy while living on the street and impaired is cruel and inhumane treatment. But even Mayor Garcetti’s goals will probably fail, even with the sales tax funding because there is no political will to level the playing field and erase the widening chasm between rich and poor.
Harsh Reality and Blueeyedboy…..well said.
“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty…” – Benjamin Franklin
If you provide an addict with their basic needs, they have no incentive to change. You are NOT helping anyone who calls a sidewalk “home” by normalizing it and enabling them. Every American neighborhood with extensive homeless services- soup kitchens, free clothes, clean needles, new tents, etc- has an exploding homeless population. What started as a perceived need becomes a destination that attracts more homeless. They’re not stupid; they know where to get stuff, and will stick around. If anyone is concerned that Weho rents are too high, just make it easier for homeless people to take up residence in… Read more »
Last evening I saw a guy bathing in the Sal Guarriello Veterans Memorial fountain. He was wearing only shorts and he had a bar of soap. As I passed him on my way to the mailbox he was washing his feet, and when I returned he was drying off his upper body. The 9 year old son of friends made gift bags to hand out to the homeless in his Sunday School class. He asked me if I could take some to give away, so I did. The bags have been declined by three people I offered them to, two… Read more »
@ Lily: The best thing you and your neighbors can do is email each of the Councilmembers and Pavilions management. There is a lease with the recycle center and it would be great if the lease was terminated or not renewed. Pressure from the neighborhood could help see that it doesn’t stay long.
Well, lots of comments here. Yes, providing too many services delivered to those ON the streets just enables them. Worse, I feel irritate when I see people handing cash to the homeless. They are literally dying because of these people who are trying to make themselves feel better. $10 bucks or so a year? F that. I observe daily the homeless drinking, smoking pot or meth. Your $1 bill pays for that. Give a substantially to a mission and the greater LA Food bank by auto deductions. I’m fustrated by this growing problem. I’m starting to wonder why I give… Read more »
What happened to Bobby Shriver’s “Homeless Solutions” in Santa Monica? After he lost the race for Supervisor haven’t heard a word about it.? Perhaps John Duran can get in touch with him and see what’s up. Seems like the opportunities for the homeless folks to get help are few and far between with many hurdles and little follow through. Can we have a Homeless Czar to get things in order and Czarinas in each community to implement ? Any plan with proper outreach is better that this hit and miss idea. How long does it need to be studied? Is… Read more »