Down and Out in Sherman Oaks: LA’s growing homeless problem

american-dreamThis morning, the sheriff came to serve eviction papers to my neighbor. She’d been expecting them. She is a photographer and hasn’t been getting enough work to pay her rent. She has been planning to move back to the east coast and live with family. In the meantime, she’s been waiting out the sheriff, selling what she can, and putting the rest of her things in storage. My building has fifteen units and this is the third such eviction in six months.

Less than an hour later, thanks to @jasonburns Twitter feed, I was reading about the 1 in 50 US kids who are homeless as of 2006. Certainly those numbers are far worse now. I know I pass more and more homeless people camped under the bridges on my way to work every week. On my way to the polls on election day in September, I passed a couple transporting all their worldy goods in two shopping carts down the side of Nordhoff Street, each of them held a child’s hand as they carefully wheeled their two brimming carts down the sidewalkless stretch of road. No one is bailing them out. 

As tragic as the spectre of homeless families wheeling their way through the Valley in a migration to nowhere is, I probably wouldn’t have been compelled to post about it here. For what purpose–so that you too can leak out some impotent tears that are about as useful as tits on a bull?

But last night I went to my neighborhood council meeting for the first time and the discussion there raised an issue that I do think is worth us thinking and talking about more. Among the other topics on the plate was the growing number of squatters in foreclosure homes. There was a policeman present at the meeting, as I guess is usual, and he was talking about crime in Sherman Oaks, and one council member was asking him about people living illegally in empty homes. The policeman (I cannot bring myself to say “peace officer,” sorry folks) said that it was something to be on the lookout for, that if we suspected such a thing we should let the police know.  There are several boarded up houses within a few blocks of my apartment and I get not wanting them to become crash pads for crack addicts or meth dealers. I get that. But then the councilman elaborates, saying that it’s important to be on the lookout, that sometimes it is hard to tell. Some of the squatters have kids and SUVs and dogs. Let me interrupt myself here to say, this post is in no way meant to disparage the SONC. It was my first time there, but I was made to feel welcome and the neighborhood council is clearly functional and positive and inclusive. But what I wonder is this: why is it so important to call the police on those families that look just like “normal” families? Is it so important that we protect capital itself? Is the protection of property is more important than the safety and protection of people?

On a related and more positive post script, CNN also reports on a new nonprofit, EDAR (Everyone Deserves A Roof), focused on providing portable shelter (“hobo condos”) for homeless people. Movie producer Peter Samuelson, who started EDAR, says, “If you had to define the value of a civilization, it’s not how many SUVs you’ve got. To me, I think it’s how well do we take care of our children, our homeless people, our mentally ill, those less fortunate.”

(LaDeon’s Street Living 1 photo used through a Creative Commons license.)

12 Replies to “Down and Out in Sherman Oaks: LA’s growing homeless problem”

  1. A very important note: if you can’t afford rent, don’t play out the eviction process. The moment you know you won’t be able to afford rent, try and work something out with your landlord. Even if you can’t give a proper 30 days notice to leave, notify your landlord and work something out. If you get a 3 day notice to pay rent or quit, try and leave immediately…

    An eviction is a major scar on any credit report, especially if you ever hope to rent in the next 8 years.

    If you’re being evicted, odds are you haven’t paid rent in months, were served numerous notices, and even called to court. If you have zero other options, riding it out may be merely about survival… but if there is another option, suck it up and take another path. Crash on friends couches, move back in with family.

  2. True, Markland. I got into a near-eviction with my landlord in Vacaville in 2003. I negotiated a move-out without eviction (they were required to withdraw the filing) but when I went to lease my new apartment here in Las Vegas last summer, guess what appeared on my credit report? The back rent that I owed my landlord in Vacaville when I moved out of the apartment there: they had filed the debt with “a special credit report that only landlords have access to”, according to my new landlord (the debt indeed does not appear on my other credit reports, so it came as quite a surprise and a blow to me). I had to do some major tap dancing and fast talking to get into my new apartment. Just the spectre of an eviction, my landlord told me, is enough to immediately kill any rental application anywhere in the US of A.

  3. BTW, Travis, people living in foreclosed homes should take a cue from the old Homestead Act: move into the property, improve the property, make an offer to the bank, and file for deed of title. A new Oklahoma Land Rush, 21st century-style. According to the latest statistical analysis that I’ve read (and there’s a lot of that shit to read these days), we have to get to a 45% foreclosure rate before we match the numbers of the Great Depression (although there were less homeowners in 1929-36 then there are today so the numbers are sort of wonky and suspect).

  4. I work at a homeless shelter as a case manager. This year we saw an unbelievable number of homeless families, disabled people and people who are working. Its nuts.
    Many programs have been cut, but not all. If you find yourself facing homelessness, please call 211 and ask fro services. Once you hook up with a program, don’t sit back ASK FOR SERVICES!!! I have over 100 folks in our shelter every night (and about 10 or so families each night at a local hotel- we can’t have kids at the shelter) and between the two case managers, we are not able to help everyone, but we are able to help those who come to us and ask for help.

    Also, be 100% honest about what lead you to being homeless and everything in your history. The staff will ask you questions to try and find out what programs are out there for you (like I found out the VA was issuing section 8 housing for vets. I was able to get the 4 guys who told me they were vets in this program. But how about the guys who did not let us know they were vet?).

    And don’t lie about drug use- I had a family who I found housing for but they failed the drug test. I understand the need to use a little pot when you are facing all this crap, but had they told me the truth, I would have been able advocate for them before the test results were in, instead of patching shit up after the fact).

  5. Is it so important that we protect capital itself? Is the protection of property is more important than the safety and protection of people?
    This is the most upsetting part.

  6. Timely post – I saw my first homeless father/daughter family today – the family resemblance was so strong that they couldn’t be anything but. She looked to be about 10 years old, they were both dirty, and he was pushing their stuff in a cart down Wilshire Boulevard.

  7. Although I’m racing out the door and don’t have time to research it…
    It seems to me that I recently read something (maybe saw it on 60 Minutes?) about non-profits (maybe in Florida) trying to work out a situation where homeless families could legally stay in abandoned/foreclosed homes. Does that sound like a thing? Man, could this be any more vague? Sorry. I think someone’s working on that situation, though.

  8. I saw that program burns, yes i think it was florida. The homes were foreclosed and they gave the families a chance to rent it at a very low cost, instead of letting the foreclosures sit there and get vandalized. Darn my memory as to what show that was eludes me as well.

  9. Los Angeles is the homeless capital of the US. And it is getting worse every year. I’ve spent a lot of time doing fundraisers that benefit Children Of The Night, a group that specifically helps homeless children on the streets. There are over 10K right here in our city.

    This has long been a major issue for me and a cause I try to contribute to regularly. I have had issues in the past trying to contribute to the major missions in Downtown LA, another peeve of mine. Because some of the events that I have been part of were subculture in nature, some organizations did not wish to accept our help as we might upset their base. I’m not sure what is so offensive about the basic desire to help others but apparently you are only allowed to help your brother if you live in a particular fashion.

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