On March 2, L.A. Councilmember Mike Bonin posted the following Tweet:
“We’re adding 179 more units of homeless housing to the Westside! Thanks to Project Homekey, the City is buying Extended Stay in Westchester, and LA County is helping buy LAX Suites. This means people can move from tents to homes. Everyone wins when we can bring everyone in.”
One might think this to be a small bit of good news. About 200 people could leave their tent encampment and seek temporary housing in a hotel complete with shower and bathroom, getting them off the streets. But one need only read the user replies to Bonin’s Tweet to see the grievance and ugliness that has become all too common in this era of bad behavior and recall efforts that are unfolding right out in the open.
One smartass quipped, “Wow!!! In a decade you’ve solved 384 cases out of only 40,000. You’ll have it all wrapped up in only Eleventy Billion Years!” Impatience is certainly natural, and to a good degree justified. But this sarcastic retort was one of the kinder responses. More than a dozen responders complained, let’s just say, “not so kindly” that Bonin was just giving drug addicts a safer place to shoot up. Others complained the effort does nothing because they believe the entirety of the homeless to be mentally ill. What’s baffling is that out of the other sides of their mouths they are all pleading for the encampments to be cleared. Sure, we need countless more successes like the one Bonin identifies, and tens of thousands of actual affordable housing units for people to live in. but how does news of 179 new emergency units not even slightly register support?
Perhaps the complainers are all just right-wing cranks? Nope. One responder, who uses the Twitter moniker “Democrat Against Mike Bonin” and who’s bio claims him to be progressive, mocked Bonin’s news saying, in part, “Today he heralds the use [of] the world’s most expensive thimble to save our sinking city,” touching on both the expense of housing as well as the vastness of the problem. Well, it has become far too expensive to build affordable housing and it takes too long. The L.A. Times’ Steve Lopez wrote a terrific March 6 column about the problems plaguing the City of L.A.’s HHH Housing Bond, passed in 2016. But that’s a topic for another editorial. Short of more structures being built yesterday, today, and tomorrow (not to mention a much bigger bucket) at least Bonin and other leaders are taking the thimble to the well again and again.
The fact is, too many otherwise reasonable people among us, who otherwise consider themselves progressive-minded, are just resentful of the people themselves who the economy and our society has failed and left behind. They simply want to wish them away. In a recent Op-Ed in Medium, the outgoing Executive Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), Heidi Marston, points out, “in 2020, 205 people in Los Angeles County found housing that resolved their homelessness every day — while at the same time, 225 people fell into homelessness on the same day. Homeless service agencies across the nation face an avalanche.” Devoid of the awareness that the world can be cruel and that capitalism produces far more losers than winners, these all too comfortable Angelenos sit in the security of their privilege and Tweet nonsense and resentment with a roof over their heads.
Many have opined that one of the evils of social media is that it has invited us to think we can safely lob nasty bombs on people because we’ll never see them or they may not be recognized in public. This writer isn’t immune from sending frustrated wording online. When I’ve been attacked on social media, I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten. But what has given folks in left-leaning Los Angeles the invitation to spew such personal and ugly vitriol against public figures – and each other – with such regularity? Did Donald Trump normalize bad behavior for reasonable people too? Has COVID anxiety taken us from bad to worse?
Social media or no social media, people seem to need a Boogeyman. Bonin has certainly become that in Council District 11. And when crime is perceived to be on the rise and homeless encampments are the least bit visible, they look to scorch the will and efforts of people like Bonin who are just trying to find humane solutions for people in need.
And Bonin is just one victim of relentless harassment and venom (just look at what entitled parents are doing to school board members across the country). Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich was victim to anti-vaccine activists storming her home to confront her – while she was justifiably unavailable given she was Zooming into her own city council meeting – calling her Mayor “Himmler-ish.” Really – Heinrich Himmler? Sue Himmelrich happens to be Jewish. The Nazi comparison makes about as much sense as Vladmir Putin’s claims of a Nazified Ukraine.
There are many issues for which some members of the public have lost all sense of manners and civil discourse. And when it comes to the unhoused, the pace and cost of solving the problem is frustrating to be sure. Candidates like Mike Newhouse and Traci Park, vying for Bonin’s current Council District 11, believe they have intergovernmental working knowledge and experience seemingly lacking in current elected officials and think they can do it better. Perhaps they can. But people can discuss issues like the homeless crisis without showing the worst of themselves. Westsiders need to remember – and they often do not – that the biggest problem with homelessness isn’t their discomfort in witnessing it happening … it’s that people don’t have homes.