I am 2,704 miles away from Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles, yet last night I didn’t sleep thinking about my homeless friends that live there. I cannot imagine how scared they are or the trauma they feel after constant threats of displacement. Several live videos of the LAPD moving into the park were streaming on social media last night. One woman, advocating to support her homeless neighbors, said homeless people are packing up their belongings in the dark.
My heart sank.
I visited Echo Park Lake four times last week. During the previous 12 months, I spent a fair amount of time there connecting to friends and handing out socks. Four months ago, we produced a mini-documentary on the Echo Park Lake homeless community. Our homeless friends asked for a BBQ, so we catered a complete BBQ meal for 80 people.
Three months ago, our video of this father and son living in a tent played a significant role in getting them into a hotel. Homeless services did the work, but this video brought attention to their needs, and service providers helped them that very night. You’ve probably met several of the homeless people living at Echo Park Lake on our YouTube channel.
But this post isn’t about Invisible People; it’s about YOU.
Each time I visit Echo Park Lake, I am in awe of how much homelessness has grown. Tents are popping up everywhere, at an exponential rate. At the same time, I get this surreal feeling that homeless encampments in public parks are the future of America.
While politicians and nonprofits have tried to spin that they have homelessness under control, the numbers of people living unsheltered were skyrocketing even before the pandemic. I read one report that homelessness in Los Angeles is predicted to grow 89% because of the pandemic. My guess is that is a low estimate. The last time I looked, there were between 10-14 million households at risk of eviction, a number that continues growing. Even if only 1% end up homeless, it will destroy an already overwhelmed social service system.
Meanwhile, elderly homelessness becomes an increasingly severe crisis with 10,000-plus Boomers hitting 65 every single day.
Like me, many lost everything in the 2008 crash. Even if COVID didn’t happen, elderly homelessness was destined to tax the social services system.
What happened in Echo Park Lake is just the beginning. Soon it will be happening where you live. I visited another park last week, and tents were everywhere. If it hasn’t happened where you live, it will soon. Sadly, I foresee most public parks in America turning into homeless camps. Unless we take tangible actions now, we cannot prevent more people from entering homelessness. We must fix the affordable housing crisis. We must ensure that people facing eviction receive the resources they need to remain in their homes. And we must ensure housing is available to everyone.
I am not a policy person. I cannot provide homeless policy information and data on why the homelessness crisis is growing. But it is pretty obvious. In cities all over the United States, politicians have favored housing developers while ignoring the desperate need for affordable housing.
Simultaneously, these same politicians try to convince the public they are working to end homelessness. Yet, they try to spend the very least amount of money to fix an enormous crisis. Politicians pat themselves on the back for creating Bridge Housing or tiny shacks in a smoke and mirrors attempt to make it look like they have an impact. However, without housing, these half-assed measures do little to end homelessness.
I’ll be honest. Part of the reason I didn’t sleep last night is I am scared.
I am scared to death of the homelessness we are soon to see and how cities will send in police to displace people. The criminalization of homelessness has never made sense to me. It’s hard to fathom politicians supporting the displacement of homeless people, knowing it’s extremely expensive to taxpayers and does NOTHING to help end homelessness. In fact, police actions make it harder to help homeless people. The homeless people who lived at the park are now all over the city, making it harder for outreach workers to help them. The bottom line is the criminalization of homeless people is fucking horrible and stupid. I try not to swear online, but some words just fit.
The good news is hundreds of housed people came out yesterday to support their unhoused neighbors. I hope this support keeps growing, which is where you come in. If you’re local Los Angeles, here is a list of over 35 community organizations that are part of the Services Not Sweeps coalition. Click here for information on how to contact your Los Angeles elected officials. For real-time information, follow Ktown for All and Street Watch LA on Twitter. We made it easy for you to contact your state and federal legislators to demand they increase the supply of affordable housing and stop criminalizing homeless people.