By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
There’s a thread that connects these senior citizens living out their days on the Row, and it's a heartless weave. The thread is that, apparently, there are not enough people who are aware of the fact that our housing and health-care systems are in such a horrific state of failure that thousands of senior citizens are banished to the streets of downtown. Either that or nobody really gives a fuck. People want to hear about a more exotic, less local brand of human suffering like refugee camps, child soldiers, sex slavery, the global AIDS pandemic, genocide or the seemingly endless variety of Middle East atrocities paraded on the nightly news. We seem to prefer a suffering with a less threatening proximity. The Brangelina kind. Not the downtown kind.
Once senior citizens hit Skid Row they’ve already gone through a lot, and have to go through more.
“Families, their benefits, hotels, rooming houses,” Jeanette says. “Next thing is SROs, and if they can’t manage that . . . the next thing is the street downtown. The folks that are down here have been through every support there is. Social Security isn’t enough. They have conditions and needs that no one else has except very young children. They have dietary needs that affects their overall well-being. Seniors don’t eat, and their minds go. They eat and start to get more centered, and it’s like, oh! He was hungry. There’s something in our culture that discards or overlooks older people who have conditions we don’t want to tolerate. Older people are treated like other people who have serious mental illness. They’re just damn inconvenient to deal with on a long-term basis. The system doesn’t provide for people at the lowest part of the population.”
The number of old people on Skid Row is actually quite staggering, even to Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes downtown.
“There are about 8,000 residential-hotel units in downtown. A conservative estimate of those living on fixed income and who are ‘seniors’ averages 30 percent of the population,” she tells me. “In the 4,000 units of rehabilitated and new supportive housing in Skid Row, the number of seniors would be at about 25 to 30 percent. In the Emergency Homeless Shelter system that is funded by the city of L.A., 30 percent of the population is seniors. Some have lost their housing, many have disabilities like dementia, mental illness and physical disabilities.”
That doesn’t sound good. But don’t worry, the new hundred-bazillion-dollar “Bring L.A. Home" plan is gonna fix shit good. I know because I saw it on TV. Big press conference at the Midnight Mission. Even had a guy from Washington there.
“I have followed the work of the panel from its inception, and their deliberate efforts have provided information and an analytical foundation for the creation of an action plan to create results on the streets, in neighborhoods and in the lives of homeless people,” said Bush’s point person, Phillip Mangano, executive director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which I think means that he read the LAHSA press release on the plane ride over.
The big plan pans out like this: a recommended 50,000 units of housing over a 10-year campaign to end homelessness in Los Angeles, the “Homeless Capital” of the United States, where, according to the 2005 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, the total number of homeless people in the streets and shelters is 82,291 on any one night.
Here’s a recap of how we hit the Skid Row jackpot.
In June 2005, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors committed $24.6 million for shelter and services. By the following November, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced $50 million would go to the city’s Housing Trust Fund for permanent supportive housing. He also pledged his support for a $1 billion bond measure to develop more affordable housing citywide. On April 4, 2006, the Board of Supervisors approved $100 million to decentralize the homeless services concentrated on Skid Row by creating local homeless centers across the county that would provide basic shelter and services.
Scott Ito, LAHSA's director of development and communications, told me it would take $8.4 billion “to make a real impact on the homeless problem in terms of housing and services.” Obviously, we're a few bucks short.
“The plan is a step forward, and that’s true,” Jan Perry says. “A lot of it is one-time money. It’s an opportunity to put our thoughts to paper and to leverage our money — the city money, the county money — and to demonstrate to the federal government that we’re actually serious.”
In other words, the money going to help these old folks . . . how?
“It will enable and empower certain groups that specialize in building this kind of specialized housing to create focused opportunities for people who are elderly and homeless,” she says. “I want to be supportive of whatever state legislation makes it to the process to involuntarily bring certain categories of people in for a bed at the very minimum.”
Fantastic! But when will I look out my window and not see septuagenarian strawberries blazing rocks in the midday sun on my block?