Only Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre attended the forum arranged by downtown property owner John Alle to address solutions to the problems caused by the homeless in Santa Monica
Santa Monica’s Mayor refused to attend a public forum on homelessness where she could not control the microphone. Nor did she reply to our request for a statement regarding her refusal to come discuss a problem that is arguably, in some significant part, her fault and likely to get worse if she peppers the city with the “affordable” and “permanent supportive” housing she desires. On the other hand, City Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre did attend the meeting held Monday at Alle’s building on the Promenade. Both expressed the desire to do what was necessary to create a clean and safe city.
The stated purpose of the meeting was to "address, discuss ideas, and find some common ground on temporary and permanent solutions to move the unhoused and other dangerous vagrants and sick off the sidewalks...so the local residents and visitors feel safe about shopping, dining and conducting their business in our Downtown."
There was broad agreement regarding the most effective methods for addressing homelessness on the panel that included Los Angeles County Sheriff Villanueva, Lieutenant Deedrick of the Sheriff's Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST), and Pastor Ron Hooks of homeless outreach group West Coast Care. Public spaces should be kept free of anti-social behavior, and the homeless should be moved to temporary-only shelters where they can be assessed as to further necessary treatment or support. The goal should be self-sufficiency rather than dependence.
"We're enabling dependency and normalizing deviancy," said Villanueva, who had some choice comments regarding the region's soft-on-crime laws, particularly Proposition 47, which downgraded almost all former felonies to misdemeanors. The 2014 law made it impossible for law enforcement to take troubled individuals into custody where they could be kept off the streets and, just as important, given the services they needed, such as shelter, medical treatment, and mental health and social services. Now these individuals are able to refuse the help they need. "People are dying day after day" because they are able to refuse the treatment they need, said Deedrick.
"That's not being compassionate," Villanueva agreed. It was a sentiment repeated often during the 90-minute panel discussion.
The idea of solving the homeless problem with permanent housing was ridiculed by the panel, particularly Sheriff Villanueva, who remarked, "Anyone who has the idea that they're going to build their way out of homelessness is smoking the same stuff that the people screaming are." Such promises of free housing only attract more homeless to come to the area.
Pastor Hooks, who works to reunite homeless individuals with their families, agreed. "Instead of housing, we need to provide new paths to self-sufficiency. Permanent supportive housing is unsustainable." Hooks said his eyes were opened during the closing of the beaches in the 2020 lockdown. Suddenly, the homeless he'd been conversing with on the beach were ready to give up their harmful lifestyle. "If I can't live on the beach, I'm ready to go home," was a common theme Hooks heard. He calculates that 20%-30% of the homeless actually do have options for places to stay indoors but choose not to exercise them. He cautioned against providing free goods, like housing, for the homeless as this only increases dependency and reduces self-sufficiency.
"When people have jobs, it reduces homelessness," said Villanueva, echoing Hooks's claim.
The meeting grew boisterous when the discussion turned to the city's plan to demolish Parking Structure 3 and replace it with permanent supportive housing for the homeless. Villanueva scorned the idea and pointed to the decay of Olvera Street, once a thriving tourist magnet and a popular location for school field trips. Now many stores are closed and the school trips cancelled. The city leaders had torn down a nearby parking structure and replaced it with a homeless shelter. Such shelters "do not belong next to a major tourist destination" like the Promenade.
Villanueva summarized his message in two points. Government officials need to build capacity for sheltering the homeless, both temporary-only shelters and campsites and mental institutions. Secondly, officials need to regulate public spaces with enforcement of the laws available, which are sufficient for the task.
"Five homeless a day die in Los Angeles," said Villanueva. The life expectancy for the homeless is in the 40s. "There's nothing benign" about leaving the homeless to live as they please on the streets.