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Homeless in Los Angeles

February 13, 1985

Two remarkable letters to the editor appeared in your Feb. 1 edition. Written by County Supervisors Deane Dana and Michael Antonovich, they denied, in essence, that a homelessness problem exists in Los Angeles County. Dana even asserted that 100 shelter beds to empty each night in the county.

My office is located in downtown Los Angeles and I and my co-workers serve a largely homeless population. Every day we turn away homeless people for whom we cannot find emergency shelter. Consequently, the morning that the supervisors' letters appeared, I called Dana's office and identified myself. I explained that I worked with the homeless and wanted to know where the 100 empty shelter beds were located so that I could refer homeless people to them.

The woman to whom I spoke said that no one in the office knew where those beds were, and she refused to give me her last name. She then referred me to a woman (again, first name only) within the county Department of Public Social Services, who would have the answer. I called this woman, who referred me to another person. This person also did not know where there might be 100 empty shelter beds, and referred me back again to Dana's office. This experience suggests that it is Dana himself, not the advocates for the homeless, who is "insufficiently . . . informed."

Dana goes on to suggest that there are only "several hundred" homeless in the downtown area. Again, Dana appears to have insufficient information. This past Christmas season, the Tent City housed 300 homeless each night, and still had to turn people away on a daily basis. During that same period, nearly 100 additional homeless people slept within a few yards of my office each night. Many others that I saw took refuge on sidewalks, in parks, under bridges and in doorways, or huddled in the back seats of cars.

This group also included those who spend the entire night walking the streets of the city, too fearful to close their eyes in sleep. Many of these people maintain a well-scrubbed appearance so that they are not targeted as "bums" or "transients." Consequently, one would never guess that these people were homeless, unless one stoped to talk with them. Through our familiarity with this homeless population, I and my co-workers have come to realize that an estimate of "several hundred" homeless in the downtown area is simply ludicrous.

Finally, I am forced to point out that the conservative majority of the Board of Supervisors has opposed nearly every constructive measure to aid the homeless that the advocates for the homeless have proposed. Time and again we have had to resort to litigation to force the board to act upon its legal responsibility to provide decent shelter for this destitute population.

NANCY MINTIE

Los Angeles

Mintie is director of the Inner City Law Center.

Both Supervisors Dana and Antonovich take The Times to task for criticizing Los Angeles County's inaction on the "homeless" crisis.

Dana's letter starts by questioning, "Has there been a 'Shameful Fumble' in L.A. County's efforts to help the homeless as the Jan. 21 Times editorial claimed?" Dana cries "no". But even a casual perusal of his bumbling efforts since Jan. 18, 1983, indicates his ineptitude!

In the board motion that Dana authored on that date, he stated, "The numbers of the homeless has become an increasing problem . . . Existing shelters and community-based agencies inform me that they no longer have the resources to handle the growing number of homeless and displaced persons . . . I believe we can do more . . ." This motion was made and passed two years ago, but any involved Angeleno knows that practically nothing has been done during that time by the supervisors with their $6.3 billion budget.

Dana disputes the numbers of homeless people that the federal government's Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD) estimates are in Los Angeles. He never questioned HUD's statistics before, but now (possibly to justify his meager efforts) he writes, "How many homeless are there?" Quite possibly, he may believe that if new statistics show there are less homeless, then no one will be able to say that he accepted human misery in Los Angeles as just another unalterable fact of life.

But HUD unequivocally states that there are from 31,300 to 33,800 homeless persons in Los Angeles! No one's windshield survey, or police dragnet, can scientifically change that number. And no one can show where more than 4,000 to 5,000 people per day are given any kind of public or private shelter! The street sidewalks, doorways, alleys, all-night theaters, park benches and abandoned buildings are the only place where 80% of L.A.'s homeless exist.

If Dana and Antonovich are first going to start inventorying the homeless at this late date, and appoint some more committees to investigate where shelter can be found, then it's really time for them to throw in the sponge. Someone has got to get into immediate action now. Fumbling and bumbling do more harm than good.

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