Climate Heats Up in Political Arena on Homeless Issue
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The spell of cold weather that contributed to the deaths of four transients has gone, but the political debate over Los Angeles County’s 30,000 homeless people remains heated.
Mayor Tom Bradley, who was out of town when the City Council voted to use City Hall as a shelter for the homeless last month, filed fund-raising papers Monday for an unprecedented fifth term, more than a year ahead of the deadline.
Fellow Democrat Zev Yaroslavsky, an 11-year council veteran and the sponsor of the emergency shelter legislation, declined to commit himself to a run for the mayor’s office but admitted that it’s a strong possibility.
″It’s been no secret ... that we’ve been contemplating the mayor’s office for some time,″ Yaroslavsky said Monday.
Also on Monday, Santa Monica’s city attorney urged that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors be charged with involuntary manslaughter, claiming neglect of the homeless led to the four cold weather-related deaths last month.
″The problems of the homeless have been brought to the attention of the Board of Supervisors time and time again,″ Robert Myers wrote Monday in a letter sent to Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira Reiner.
Myers called for an investigation into whether the board’s failure to take action amounted to criminal negligence of the poor.
The county doesn’t operate any shelters but provides vouchers for approved shelter-type hotels, thereby pre-empting city authority, according to city attorney’s spokesman Ted Goldstein.
Catholic charities, the Salvation Army and the independent Union Rescue Mission all operate homeless shelters in Los Angeles. The Salvation Army operates four shelters in the city and six scattered around the county.
Weeks before the four homeless people died, Bradley had argued that shelters were unavailable. Attorneys warned city officials about lawsuits, building inspectors warned about the hazards of earthquakes and businessmen warned about the adverse effects shelters would have on their neighborhoods.
On Jan. 16, Bradley said that there would be no city shelters, then left on a nine-day trade mission to Africa.
″We have an unusual setup because the county has the responsibility for homeless in this area. The city does not have any legal responsibility,″ Bradley said.
While Bradley was in Africa, Yaroslavsky ramrodded an emergency measure through the council opening up City Hall, warehouses and some city-owned apartment buildings to the homeless. The City Hall shelter was open for three nights beginning Jan. 20 after overnight temperatures had dipped into the 30s. The four homeless people died before the council acted.
Bradley was criticized during the council debate.
However, Bradley said last week: ″If I had been here, I certainly would have gone along with that. ... When they called me in Africa, I indicated I certainly concurred with what the council had done. We were fully in accord.″
″It’s a very complex problem. With everything we, the county and the state are doing, we recognize we cannot take care of the whole problem, but we are doing our best,″ Bradley said.
Los Angeles attracts more homeless than any other city in the country, Bradley said. ″The reason is clear to me. The weather is so temperate, they can sleep without any shelter around them without any difficulty.″
″It’s sad people died,″ said Ted Hayes, a homeless activist who helped establish ″tent cities″ for the homeless in Los Angeles the last two Christmases. ″But the way human beings are made, maybe that had to happen.″
Hayes and two other homeless advocates won a reprieve Thursday from the city attorney’s office, which decided not to press charges that they interfered with state police efforts to close Tent City II on a rainy day last month.
″This is just not a good time to be prosecuting the homeless,″ Deputy City Attorney Alice Hand said, adding she made the decision in the interest of justice.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has estimated that Los Angeles County, which has a population of about 8 million people, has a homeless population of 30,000.
Transients historically were concentrated primarily on Skid Row, but overcrowding, crime, and other factors forced people to move to the seaside cities of Santa Monica and Venice, where they sleep on beaches and in parks.
In Santa Monica, a city of 93,000, seaside ShangriLa Hotel manager Dino Nanni said homelessness poses problems for tourism.
″People who come to Santa Monica and walk through Palisades Park might not ever want to come back. Tourists go for a walk to the pier with their families and get hit up for change 15 times,″ he said.
Dr. Paul Joseph, director of outreach services for Santa Monica West Mental Health Clinic, walks the streets there looking for homeless who need help.
He believes California’s state hospitals should be reopened to te mentally ill, who made up about 40 to 50 percent of the homeless population, and the county could handle the temporarily homeless who are just down on their luck.