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Homeless: Problem Warrants Exploring Causes and Solutions

April 24, 1994

I think the heart of the disagreement between Mr. Dellinger and me is our different perception of the causes of homelessness. Every day I hear stories about people losing their jobs and/or their homes. After the earthquake, several Santa Monicans I know lost both. Yesterday, I heard of a man who used to administer rental properties, but whose job disappeared as more and more rental property owners did this work themselves under the pressure of the recession.

If these people did not have networks of affluent family and friends to depend upon, they would be homeless. Virtually every eager homeless person in Santa Monica whom I have questioned has been eager to tell his or her story, and all the stories begin, "I used to be a . . . " They have worked hard as factory workers, as social workers, and, of course, as servicemen and women in the United States armed forces. Their jobs disappeared because the plant or business downsized or went out of business, the library or school had to cut its staff, automation made a set of skills and experiences redundant.

The stereotyping of homeless people is especially unfair and unfortunate as it impacts homeless families. Children are the future, and by regarding homeless people as people who have simply made "bad choices" we undercut the self-esteem of young people who haven't been in a position to make any choices. We also undercut their respect for their parents--parents who are desperate to do right by their children.

I do not mean to "distort the issue." Rather, I was arguing that we need to inform ourselves more fully about the causes of homelessness and about how best to address the phenomenon. I would urge that a responsible census be taken that could tell us as a community what skills there are, what problems, what ages, genders and needs, among those people in Santa Monica who do not have homes. As Nancy Hill-Holtzman pointed out in her March 31 article ("Council to Open Shelter for Homeless") estimates of the number of homeless people in Santa Monica seem to oscillate wildly. We (and I include homeless people in that 'we') need a detailed picture so that as a community we can come up with sensible, constructive, realistic responses--not panic.

I am sure Mr. Dellinger has heard of the Great Depression. Perhaps, like mine, some of his family were homeless during some of those years. Perhaps, like me, he feels passionately about the situation because he does understand that it can happen to anyone.

MARGUERITE WALLER Santa Monica

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