CA Homeless Crisis: The Hidden Homeless

There was a time in the not so distant past that the term ‘mobile home’ referred to a form of inexpensive, prefab housing built on a steel chassis similar to that of automobiles and trucks and equipped with wheels. Once assembled these ‘mobile homes’ were towed to a location and set on a concrete foundation where they were primarily used for long term occupation. Of course because they had wheels they could be moved again to a new location by the owner if desired. The most common location of these homes were mobile home parks built specifically to accommodate mobile homes and travel trailers.

Although the term ‘mobile home’ still refers to a home on wheels, many of these ‘mobile homes’ have grown in size and are sometimes bigger than a regular house. They often take up two or three standard spaces in a mobile home park. These home are delivered in sections to the site, set up and put in place. Although they continue to be called ‘mobile homes’ these larger homes are no longer mobile.

homeless-familyToday the term ‘mobile home’ has taken on a new meaning. For the last decade, as the divide between the rich and poor continues to grow and what used to be called the middle class shrinks in size, more and more casualties of class warfare have lost their jobs, been forced to sell their homes or lost them to foreclosure and have taken to living on the road. I don’t mean that they’re living in motor homes, 5th wheels or travel trailers, I’m sure they’d love to be doing that, no this particular group of homeless people have been forced to live out of the back of their trucks, vans, SUV’s, station wagons or sedans. Why? Well there is a shortage of affordable housing and job opportunities, jobs that are available are low paying, rents are through the roof, and homeless shelters are overcrowded and usually very dirty. They have no other option. These people, who are being called the ‘hidden homeless’, have lost everything, everything but their dignity and their vehicles.

And the homeless today are not the homeless we may remember from our younger days, adult males who often by choice wandered the rails, highways and byways and were often referred to as hobos or bums. No this is a whole new breed of homeless that we began seeing back in the 80’s when their numbers exploded due to government cuts in low-income housing and assistance programs for low-income families. And their numbers have been growing ever since.

getImageWho are the homeless? Today they are families with children, single mothers and their children, military veterans, unemployed blue collar and professional people the mentally ill, hell they could be your next door neighbors! And they’re all in real economic trouble. To make matters worse government spending on housing assistance programs for low-income individuals and families is less than 50% of what it was in the late 70’s before the cuts began and it doesn’t appear that it’s going to get better any time soon.

So now we have this group of “hidden homeless” living in their vehicles wherever they can. The new American vagabonds moving from place to place, just trying to make it. Tough times. Especially here in Los Angeles. L.A. had a law on the books since 1983 making it illegal to live in your car but the law wasn’t enforced until 2010 when the situation began to escalate.The law forbids anyone from using their vehicle “as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.” A 21 officer task force was put on the streets to enforce the law.

However the law was so broad that officers all interpreted it differently so enforcement was selective; officers were singling out the homeless and citing or arresting people for simply having personal belongings in their vehicles even when they were parked in private parking structures or lots, making an already difficult situation even worse. Fortunately in June of this year the Ninth Circuit Court saw fit to overturn the law saying it was “potentially discriminatory and unconstitutional” and that the law criminalized innocent behavior. Chalk one up for the poor guys!

Can you imagine losing your home and being forced to live out of your car? I remember as a teen I lived out of my VW for a week at the river while everyone else tented. Believe me it got old quick! at least my seats reclined which made sleeping a bit easier. And I didn’t have to worry about being forced to move my vehicle nightly or where my next meal was coming from. Still, it sucked. I can’t imagine having to live out of my vehicle on a full time basis.

Currently there is no accurate figure as to how many ‘hidden homeless’ there are in California. What makes it difficult is that many of the hidden homeless are embarrassed and try to keep their situation secret. Best guess estimates put the number at about 10% of the homeless family population and growing. So what can be done to remedy the situation of these ‘hidden homeless’? Some larger cities are already addressing the problem and have created or are in the process of creating large, secure parking areas for the hidden homeless which will certainly help, but what about those who live in the many smaller cities that still have ordinances that prohibit over night parking. What do the hidden homeless do there?

Although the parking lots and open street parking are a temporary answer to aid a particular group of homeless, I think the real answer is to address the homeless problem in its entirety. Sacramento holds the key. Law makers need to get down to business make things happen. Do you realize that there are laws on the books that if enacted could bring quick relief for the homeless. There is a major shortage of long term, year round homeless shelters and facilities for the growing homeless population in our state. At the state level all that has to be done is to declare a statewide shelter crisis.  Law makers should band together and call upon the Governor to declare such an emergency. But the legislators are reluctant to act. Even at the city level the mayor or board of Supervisors can declare a shelter emergency but few communities have.

What the hell is going on?  The number of homeless women and children has increased, shelters across California are at capacity, Something needs to be done! Come on Sacramento get it together! Homelessness isn’t going to go away quietly into the night. The time has come to act. Get Brown to declare a shelter emergency and do it soon so that the problem can be addressed correctly. No more band aids! You go home to a warm, safe home every night, these people are crowded into shelters, sleep in their cold vehicles, or under a bridge somewhere.

Perhaps the time has come for Governor Brown to forgo his super-sized ego and scrap his dreams for his super bullet train! The Brown Express is unnecessary and should be scrapped immediately! The billions would be better spent on the California Homeless Crisis. Come on Brown, leaving behind a legacy like a bullet train is small potatoes when you can leave behind a legacy of care and helpfulness. I’m quite sure going out as a legendary leader would be more fulfilling than leaving us a useless speed train.

Just Saying…

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Remembering Martin Luther King

“…Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about a thing. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”                                

                                                                                                                                 Martin Luther King  4/3/1968

MLK-198x300Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday established in 1986 to honor the memory and accomplishments of one of the greatest peace advocates and activists our country has ever known. His untimely death 44 years ago was a major blow to the Civil Rights Movement. Following his death rioting broke out in major cities across the country, rekindling fear and racial tension and severely jeopardized the great strides made by King.

The excerpt above is from King’s final speech given on the day before he was assassinated. Those who heard him speak that day noted an air of sorrow in his demeanor as he spoke about the gains of the civil rights movement and his sadness in not being there to see it through to conclusion, of not reaching the promised land of racial equality. King was said to have a premonition of his impending death. On several occasions during his life he’d told his associates that he would not live to see 40 years old. He was 39 when he was killed.

King was a remarkable man who began his college education at the age of 15. Like his father he went on to the seminary and became a Baptist minister. From the pulpit he spoke out about social injustice and the need for racial equality. It was there that he began his career as a civil rights activist organizing boycotts and other peaceful protests and developed his philosophy of “nonviolent resistance.”

In 1963 King organized a massive march on Washington. with more than 250,000 participants, including about 65,000 white supporters, it was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation’s capital, and one of the first to have extensive television coverage. They marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in what turned out to be not only  a protest, but a communal celebration as well. The massive protest was both civil and peaceful.  The event included musical performances by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, Speeches by the top civil rights leaders of the time,  including King who gave his famous “I have a Dream, American Dream” speech. It was quite the event.

One year later King became the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize and was also the first Black American to be named Time Magazines Man of the Year. Incredible feat for a black man in the turbulent 1960’s. But was all of this enough to earn him a federal holiday? What do you think?

There are many who don’t think so. In fact his holiday was established by the government in 1986 but it wasn’t until 2000 that all fifty states adopted it. Some believe that King should be no more than a footnote in Civil Rights history, that the gains made in civil rights were not his accomplishments alone, but the result of a united effort led by many and he doesn’t truly deserve all the praise and adoration he receives. Perhaps they’re right. King after all was just a man. He wasn’t some saintly figure above reproach. Like all of us he had his flaws and his shortcomings, he chain smoked, drank liquor and yes, even cursed on occasion. But  even with his flaws King did nothing to diminish his legacy. Besides, it is not King the man we honor today, but King the idealist, the visionary, the dreamer and all that his beliefs helped to accomplish.

When I think about King I think of hope. I see King as a man of love, who believed in cooperation, compromise and working together for the common good. He saw things not as they were, but as they should be. He wasn’t afraid to stand up in the face of adversity for what he believed in. He is a shining example of leadership. We rarely see the type of dream,compassion and dedication he possessed, in our leaders today. We certainly don’t see enough of it in our citizens. If more people had the courage of their convictions as he did, our society would continue to evolve and we would go on making great strides in our efforts to be better human beings who respect life and one another.

Do I believe King deserves a day honoring him? Damn right I do! He was an outstanding humanitarian. Like any man he certainly had his shortcomings but his accomplishments in the area of civil rights are unprecedented.  So please take a moment today to remember Dr. King, what he has done and how the world has changed for the good because of his contributions. MLK deserves our respect, he’s earned it He led us to the mountaintop and showed us what could be, He gave us a dream to believe in, an American dream…

Just Saying…

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Throwback Thursday: “It Don’t Come Easy” 10/2014

“Just open your eyes and realize the way its always been…”       Moody Blues
“I’m going through changes…”           Black Sabbath
I’m trying hard to understand                                                                                                                                                                    I know we can make it together                                                                                                                                                             cause you see I’m changing –                                                                                                                                                                       I’m a changing man…”                       John S.  1981

111I was reading through some older posts yesterday and came across this particular entry. Reading it I was reminded of the difficult twists and turns our life journey sometimes takes, and how our choices and decision set these side trips in motion. For me it was miles and miles of poor choices and disappointments followed by a long period of melancholia. Then out of the blue a series of events occurred that opened my eyes and the light bulb came on! At long last I was finally able to make more good decisions than poor ones and change happened.

I can’t tell you the exact moment it happened, only that it did happen. Hell it’s still happening! I can’t tell you why it happened, I suppose I was just ready. The winds of change were blowing in the right direction, my direction.

The 80’s were just getting started and I was nearing thirty. Scary times.  I had come of age during the ‘peace, love, dove,’ decade of the 60’s, you know, the “sex, drugs and rock & roll era!” Yeah, from the Summer of Love in 67 through Woodstock in 69  I had a blast! I enjoyed the hell out of those years,  probably a bit more than I should have.

Just married! November 1973

Then the 70’s came rolling in and in no time I became an active participant in the status game. I got sucked in like most of the twenty-somethings, into the ‘I, me, mine’ decade, got married and began my pursuit of the almighty dollar. And although by all appearances I seemed to be doing okay, believe me, I wasn’t. I had not been prepared for the so called ‘decade of greed.’ Then came the 80’s.

At twenty-nine I was not a happy camper. I hated my life! Nothing seemed to be going right. Everything was going to hell! I hated my job, oh it paid well and kept me in the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ game, but I couldn’t stand it. My anger and self doubt was destroying my marriage and my relationship with my young children. My life (at least from my point of view)  seemed to be just one disappointment after another. My only recourse was to lock myself away in my den with my stereo God and drown my sorrows in a daze of music, marijuana and bottle after bottle of Budweiser, which I did often, too often…

I was going nowhere quick but didn’t really care. Then in September of 1980 a former girlfriend was killed in a traffic accident, a major turning point in my life. She had been my first love, the girl I thought I was going to marry, the girl who broke my heart. It was not her death that fanned the flame within me, but it’s aftermath. While attending the reception following the funeral service I chanced to overhear her young daughter talking about her mom and sharing happy stories about her, pleasant memories. She had been a very good mom. I listened for quite some time and when I finally walked away I was crying.

On the drive home and for months to come the memory haunted me. I began to wonder what my children would say about me if I were to die suddenly. A single image always came to mind, my kids being asked about me and saying, “yeah I remember my dad, sitting in his den listening to music, and when we’d enter the room he’d shout at us, “Get out of here I’m busy! Leave me alone I’m busy!” “Get out of here Now!”  Not a very pleasant way to be remembered.
Then in December my rock hero John Lennon was assassinated. In the tons of articles and new stories that followed his death, I read how he had made the decision to leave the music industry behind for a 5 year period so that he could be there with Yoko to help raise his son. He wanted to be available to answer his son’s questions, bake bread together and share in his discoveries. Again I was driven to ponder my own shortcomings as a father. Why couldn’t I be that kind of father, that kind of man?
A month later in early 1981 my grandmother passed away. We were very close. I loved her so very much. I was the grandchild  who had given her the nickname that stuck with her forever. Before I renamed her all the grandchildren called her grandma Pepa, Then I came along and dubbed her grandma Pepita. The name stuck. Her death like the others drove me deeper into myself searching for the reasons I was the way that I was, searching for answers on how to make things right, searching for direction.
I spent the next five month, what I call my epiphany period, doing some heavy duty thinking. It was my window of opportunity, a chance to learn, understand and grow, a chance to begin my metamorphosis. Best decision I ever made. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, I wish it could have, it would have made my journey a whole lot easier. In time I was able to gain back my wife’s trust and respect and we were able to move on. We were a family once again.
A year later I returned to college full time and was able to be their for my two children. It was quite an experience to be the one taking and picking them up from school, attending teacher conferences and taking them to doctor appointments, I loved those year and wouldn’t trade them for the world. Upon graduating I became a Middle School teacher and loved every minute! Seven years later I earned my Master’s Degree and went on to become a high school counselor. Today my wife and I are retired and we’re still moving on…
Making life changes isn’t easy. It’s a painstaking endeavor that takes time, patience and commitment , it can’t be rushed. Soul searching and understanding are hard work.  But good things are the result of hard work, they don’t come easy. The harder you work, the sweeter the reward. Believe me I know!

Life Change Happens!

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