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The Homeless Suffer in Shadow of Disney Hall

October 24, 2003|Alice Callaghan | Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest, directs Las Familias del Pueblo, a nonprofit community center in downtown Los Angeles.

Fishman pushed his worn cart down 7th Street. His load of flattened tin cans shimmered in the glow of headlights as cars passed.

Six blocks and half a billion dollars away, tables were being set for Los Angeles' movers and shakers as the new Walt Disney Concert Hall prepared for its grand opening. Tickets for the festivities ranged from $500 to $5,000.

The concert hall, when all was said and done, cost $274 million, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a block away, nearly $200 million. Still more is earmarked for additional aesthetic enhancement projects on Bunker Hill.

Yet, in the shadow of City Hall, police prepare to rid downtown sidewalks of the homeless by Christmas. There are at least 3,000 homeless people sleeping in missions and on the streets within blocks of Disney Hall.

This summer, Police Chief William Bratton brought to Los Angeles the academic who devised the plan in New York that ran the homeless out of subways and Times Square without providing an alternative. The problem, according to the L.A. Police Department, is not one of homelessness but one of "lawlessness." Even though he admits that Los Angeles does not have all the treatment centers and housing it needs, Bratton has decided, nevertheless, that the visibility of homelessness will not be tolerated and that the misery of the poor will not hold captive downtown's gentrification dreams.

Mayor James Hahn's contribution to solving the homeless problem is to appoint a committee to study it, as though providing affordable and decent housing were not a self-evident solution. Every single affordable housing unit on skid row has a waiting list.

Let us hope that Thursday night, as the wealthy citizens sat down to their chilled pureed soup garnished with caviar, they gave a thought to the thousands of hungry people bedding down nearby in mission dormitories and on skid row sidewalks.

This morning, they should commit their enormous wealth and talent to improving the lot of the poor and hungry who wait in the concert hall's opulent shadow.

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