Homelessness in LA, and how not to fix it

Ariana Abtahi, Staff Writer

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Koreatown — a place known and beloved by many for its nightlife. Cheap Korean barbecue spots, all-age karaoke and trendy shopping malls dot the area with deep-rooted culture and history. Despite its name, Koreatown is home to a diverse array of cultural groups including Latinos and African Americans, among many others. Despite the cultural differences between these groups, they united three months ago to protest the construction of homeless shelters in the heart of K-Town, Vermont and Wilshire. The protest was so successful that L.A. lawmakers have plans to relocate the projects. One possible location is Pacific Palisades.

While many can be quick to peg K-Town residents as heartless elitists, some locals have valid concerns regarding the project. It’s a typical “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) scenario; the people agree something should be done, but not in their area of residence.

Will they be financially affected? Are there safety concerns? Which section of their land is being used? These are all valid points. Residents need to be aware of their neighborhood and what goes on in it, especially when their tax money funds the project. After all, who wants to see homeless people suffer? It should be a basic right for all humans to have food and shelter.

At Pali, we boast of our diversity, but many of our local students are oblivious to the issues that directly affect a sizeable portion of the student body. While some students walk down Sunset, grab a mocha Frappuccino, and get home by 2:30, others commute for upwards of two hours before they get to throw their backpack on their bed.

The K-Town protest is one of the most visible oppositions against homeless shelter construction in recent memory, and it seems many Palisadians don’t even know about it. However, to the Pali students who live in K-Town, it is a big deal. Requesting anonymity, a senior who lives in K-Town said that the issue has far-reaching ramifications.

“I am personally against…the specific areas they chose,” the student said. “It’s not because I am not compassionate towards the homeless, or that they are undeserving. The location they [city officials] chose is a more desirable property.” Oft-cited concerns regarding placement of homeless shelters include public urination, transient traffic and safety.

Many homeless advocates contend that compassion should trump these inconveniences, a statement that is admittedly easier to make when it’s not your neighborhood that is affected.

To be fair, the senior has a point. K-Town is not on the same socioeconomic spectrum as the Palisades. Yet, it is still home to a plethora of nonprofits and churches that gladly offer assistance to the community, including the one our senior attends. This is why council members need to stop pushing social problems on areas that cannot afford it. Instead, they should turn to neighborhoods that can — neighborhoods such as the Palisades.

In 2015, the Pacific Palisades made plans to privately raise $500,000 to combat homelessness by connecting homeless people in the Palisades to other shelters. Pacific Palisades, with some of the most desirable real estate and philanthropic residents in Los Angeles County, is able to do that. The motive, whether it is coming from a place of genuine compassion or simply a desire to get the homeless off their streets, is irrelevant. The fact is that K-Town and other neighborhoods do not have that same funding to do the same things, so they are being taken advantage of for project development.

As a community, however, the Palisades should still be proud of its efforts. Former Chair of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness Maryam Zar said that the group was able to raise both money and awareness for the homeless population within the greater community. However, funding alone won’t cut it — there needs to be actual space for these displaced people.

“There will be as much opposition as there will be support,” Zar said, conceding that some people oppose the construction because they are afraid of homeless people, or wish to protect property values. Similar to K-Town, these arguments are completely valid. But as Zar said, it is a social issue that “deserves our attention and commitment.”

The Palisades, being a smaller and closer-knit community than K-Town, is a “unique place with unique citizenry.” Zar said that she doesn’t believe that future construction plans will mirror patterns of protest in K-Town. “Our City Councilmember is Mike Bonin…he is very well in touch and aware of [our] sensibilities.” This is definitely a different situation than Herb Wesson, the councilman representing K-Town, who the community viewed as distant and unresponsive.

Some of K-Town’s residents let out a sigh of relief upon hearing that the construction site will be moved to Lafayette Park, which is a half mile outside of K-Town’s boundaries. It is a small, but temporary, victory. More construction will happen, and preparing the Pali community for a potential site is fundamental to being a part of the solution.

Yes, the Palisades is beautiful place. But homeless shelters will not detract from that beauty, and, moreover, they will keep the homeless off the streets Palisadians so desperately wish to maintain. As Zar said, being leaders and being fully educated on the benefits of homeless shelters will remove their stigma, and more people will be open-minded and responsive to the city’s desperate need and subsequent efforts.

The fact is, some communities are better suited to address certain issues. The K-Town protests grew from discontent within their community, not a lack of empathy. As a community, the Pacific Palisades could provide a solution that most cannot.