This past Christmas my husband and I decided to forgo our usual ritual of exchanging gifts, buying a tree and giving our annual holiday party. Instead we bought food, collected blankets and clothing and took them to Tent City for the homeless. Many others had the same thought, and for all of us it became the most meaningful, educational and heartbreaking Christmas in memory.
Christmas Eve we joined the homeless singing carols between the two main tent shelters, where a trio of young musicians volunteered their talents and played long into the night. Near the end of the chilly evening, we all lighted small white candles. And the flickering glow of those little flames filled hearts with hope that comes from knowing people care about each other. Even the news media folks--trying to be so objective behind their mini-cams and tape recorders--couldn't hide their emotions and wiped tears from their eyes.
We were there the morning extension of the permit was granted by the state for one more week, until New Year's Day. We hugged and cried together--one family, brothers and sisters. And we went there the day the tents finally came down; our family was forced to scatter into the alleys and doorways of the city. But the point had been made; thanks to the news media, especially The Times, the people had at last been made aware of the crisis in our midst.
We came back home--our blessed home--determined to do what we could in our own small way to help rouse the bureaucrats out of their torpor. So we wrote letters and made phone calls to them. There was a ray of hope when Mayor Tom Bradley and a host of building trade volunteers began a heroic round-the-clock emergency response, constructing a shelter for 300--a mere fraction of the homeless thousands, but a welcomed start nevertheless. Then on Jan. 16, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury issued its findings of a six-month long study of the situation in Los Angeles County: The homeless problem has grown so much that nothing short of declaring the county a disaster area can address the scope of the grim situation here.
Surely, we thought, now that the city and the Grand Jury have responded, the County Board of Supervisors would take action at last. But no. The same day the Grand Jury called for action, the Board of Supervisors--thanks to Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana--once again failed to pass something so non-controversial as appointing a representative to work in cooperation with city and private agencies to come up with workable solutions. The reason? Antonvich's and Dana's myopic notion that somehow Mayor Bradley's reelection campaign would benefit.
If a disaster such as befell Bhopal, India, or Mexico City occurred here in Los Angeles and the mayor asked for emergency help, would that be political? Is it plain to all but the most ill-informed that we have a disaster now--here. People are homeless, hungry, suffering from diseases and neglect.
Last month a shipment of food was sent to feed the homeless here. It came from money collected in West Germany. They know about our crisis in Europe, but apparently our own county supervisors do not. Let not the dissenting voices on the Board of Supervisors prove to the world that they represent the Super Bowl of Stupidity and Callousness.
I pray that their actions were a momentary lapse and that after a cozy night in their warm, clean bedrooms they reconsider their behavior and open, their eyes and hearts to the task at hand. Political or not, these thousands of people need help and need it now; for many, next week, next month may be too late.