Theo Henderson fell into homelessness the way most people do: he wasn’t making enough money to afford the rent. At the same time, he also suffered from an illness that put him on a path to the streets. Henderson moved from an apartment in Chinatown to his car, from his car to motels and eventually the sidewalk.
On Monday, Henderson launched a podcast to amplify the voices of the unhoused community in L.A. Produced by Street Watch L.A., Henderson is the host of “We The Unhoused”.
The Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles (DSA-LA) formed Street Watch L.A. in 2017 with the help of the L.A. Community Action Network (LACAN). They were among the core group that started the Services Not Sweeps Coalition.
This joint initiative between over 30 organizations, including Invisible People, pressured the city to change their approach to encampments. Ultimately, it led to the formation of the CARE program, a Mayor-led, more compassionate approach to sweeps that sometimes includes bathrooms and other services.
“Street Watch was born out of the rising tide of community prejudice,” Henderson tells Invisible People via email. The group monitors sanitation sweeps in addition to passing out supplies and connecting unhoused people to resources. “It was the tip of the spear to counterbalance against the hate.”
By “hate” Henderson means vigilantism and criminalization. City leaders, Business Improvement Districts and the LAPD perpetuate this hate.
Police, BID security and housed residents have targeted him, filing petitions to have him tossed from parks. They even had benches removed to prevent him from having a place to rest at night. A city employee stalked Henderson so severely he had to hire a lawyer to get them to stop.
“I received death threats and people yelling out horrible names, while the recreation staff laugh and dismiss my concerns for my safety,” Henderson said.
Henderson spends a lot of his time south of Chavez Ravine in a family-oriented park in Chinatown. Dozens of people greet Henderson with smiles during a tour of the park with Invisible People. He’s lived in the community for more than 10 years.
Through teaching martial arts, Henderson has formed relationships with other Chinatown residents. “I’ve watched kids that I taught grow into young adults,” he said adding his decade-long stint in Chinatown has flown by.
He goes on to explain people that have a problem with him often speak the loudest.
Take George Yu, president of the Chinatown BID who once accused Henderson of being a child predator.
Henderson vehemently denies the unsubstantiated claims. He said some people misinterpret his work as a tutor and martial arts teacher because he’s homeless.
“In order to promote my business and my connection to the park, I had pictures of the kids who were using boxing gloves, fan and pool noodles as swords. Many of them taken over four years ago. This employee stalked the page took screenshots and sent it to the police to bolster the child predator claim,” Henderson said.
Fortunately, he has a lawyer to back him up.
During the tour with Invisible People, Henderson pointed to the various signs installed to displace him. He said officials use anti-vagrancy laws as a pretext to keep him away.
“[The podcast] is our truth telling machine against those who have deemed us as criminals,” Henderson said.
“We The Unhoused” intends to counteract this tide of criminalization and propaganda. It will also examine homelessness through the unhoused lens.
“We interview the unhoused community and people who have been positively impacted by the unhoused community,” Henderson explained.
The podcast will also help connect unhoused people to services and serve as a platform for networking. He feels that a talk show is the ideal format for this discussion as it allows listeners to multitask as opposed to a video, which demands more attention.
Dogon got involved with homeless advocacy because of his relationship with the community that he grew up in where many of his friends and neighbors were unhoused. During the podcast, Dogon and Henderson discuss L.A. municipal code 41.18 (the ordinance that bans sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk during the day), vigilante violence and BIDs. The “Rising in Power” episode of “We The Unhoused” also features a segment with writer Sarah Chism.
Unhoused voices are often left out of the conversations that impact them the most. “We The Unhoused” gives them a platform to be heard. Tune in to “We The Unhoused”.
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