THE HOMELESS DILEMMA
Joseph Charney, a writer for Pasadena Star-News, wrote an article in December 2019 titled, “Homeless Crimes and its Criminals.” Charney considers homeless people to be dangerous and argues that a toxic mixture of lawlessness, drug use, and mental illness rampant in homeless encampments leads to a disproportionate percentage of homeless individuals to commit violent crimes. He suggests that if thousands of new shelters are erected, the homeless will be obligated to stay in them. He implies that because homeless people are likely to commit theft against each other that these shelters also have security. Charney also suggests that mental health facilities are built and laws enacted to enforce treatment on those who are against it. He goes on to argue that the city and county leaders should also enact stricter drug possession laws to increase the incentive for homeless addicts to seek treatment in lieu of jail time. Joseph Charney concludes that city and county officials need to confront the lawlessness of homeless encampments less the city residents be forced to take up their grievances with the court. While he makes some crucial points, his suggestions for fixing the problem do not take into account many critical factors in the ongoing homelessness dilemma.
It is safe to say that Charney, a resident of Pasadena, CA, has an outside view of the ongoings within homeless encampments. Like many of us, he has driven past so-called “tent cities” and seen homeless individuals flailing and talking to themselves on the street. His view that homeless people disproportionately commit more violent offenses lacks understanding of social constructs that cause individuals to commit crimes. There is a correlation between drug use, lawlessness, and mental health issues not only with the homeless but in poor communities as well.
Poverty influences crime, homeless or not. The lack of access to basic human needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter leads people to act out in self-preservation. Charney states in his article,” the homeless commit 12 percent of the cities violent felonies while they only make up 1 percent of the population.” He goes on to say that if these 32,000 homeless were in one city that the crime rate would make it the most violent city in the U.S.A. Without a home to live in, these exposed individuals are more likely to be harassed or attacked, leading to statistically higher probabilities of violent encounters.
While Charney suggests that the cities need to build more homeless shelters, he is mistaken in his belief that the homeless would feel obligated to stay in them. Often, homeless individuals find the rules and regulations of shelters to be too strict. A homeless person with a dog may not be allowed to bring it inside, to them, staying outside with the dog is better. Some shelters don’t allow couples to stay in the same room; again, they may not want to be apart. Charney’s suggestion that shelters have security to prevent theft among the occupants is impractical and confirms his biased belief that homeless people are criminals.
His oppressive views, such as forcing mental health treatment and implementing stricter drug laws in an attempt to sway homeless users away from crime and into treatment again, are not practical. He assumes that forcing mental health treatment would keep a homeless person from returning to the streets. Without extended care and housing, the individual may stop taking medication and decline in health. He does not take into account how these individuals may not be able to work and be self-sufficient. Charney again assumes that homeless drug users would be swayed by stricter drug possession laws to stop using and seek treatment. More stringent laws will not serve as a deterrent to drug addicts; it is a complex illness; an individual must voluntarily and willingly seek treatment.
The homelessness dilemma requires broader solutions that will take into account many vital factors in each individual’s situation. Shelters, while important, are a temporary solution to removing homeless people from the streets, without permanent housing, they are likely to end up in another homeless encampment. Not only do city and county officials need to address mental health and drug addiction among homeless individuals but also their overall long term safety and care.
Homeless crime and its criminals
LosAngeles city officials began a 13 acre homeless encampment clean-up effort along Bull Creek next to Lake Balboa Monday, November 4, 2019. The cleanup is part of a public-safety effort where encampments have overrun the Sepulveda basin creating a dangerous situation for the inhabitants and park visitors. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
By Joseph Charney |
PUBLISHED: December 8, 2019 at 9:00 am | UPDATED: December 8, 2019 at 10:35 am
Whenever there are suggestions or efforts to aggressively abate street encampments, the cry goes out: “Don’t criminalize the homeless.” This ignores the fact that the homeless are committing a disproportionate amount of serious and violent crime. It is also true that the homeless are disproportionately the victims of such crimes. The Los Angeles Police Department tracks crimes committed by and against the homeless and the statistics for 2018 are stunning: Suspects categorized as homeless commit 12 percent of the city’s violent felonies while comprising less than 1 percent of its population. If these 32,000 homeless constituted one city, the crime rate would make it by far the most violent city in the United States.
This serious criminal activity continues to rise and is ignored in the discussions of homelessness. Our politicians, media and homeless advocates obscure the issue of rampant crime with claims that street encampments are primarily due to a lack of affordable housing. But this is not the primary cause of violent crime by the homeless. It is rather the toxic mixture of lawlessness, drug dependency and mental illness that prevails on the street that has propelled a high percentage of homeless to commit serious crimes, against other homeless as well as the general public. While felony arrests of the homeless are rising, misdemeanor arrests are falling because arresting for these offenses has become a meaningless exercise. The 2014 enactment of Proposition 47 eliminated the threat of a felony filing for serial theft or drug possession. It now makes little sense to use police personnel to make arrests when the suspect will be immediately booked and released or spend at most a few days in jail. Many of these suspects will later be arrested for serious and or violent crimes.
L.A.’s encampments spawn violence that includes rape, robbery, aggravated assault and murder. With thousands of homeless victimized by such violence and nearly a thousand dying of natural causes on the street this emergency should outrage us; one that should beget dramatic and extraordinary engagement. Sadly, it has been met with increased bureaucracy and misguided ballot measures. What must be done will be challenging but there is no alternative. Thousands of new shelter units must be expeditiously built, providing individuals with clean places to live, along with the necessary security to prevent violence and theft by or against its occupants. Once built, those who now live on the streets will have the obligation to use them. In addition, extensive mental health facilities must be constructed expeditiously to serve the mentally ill, and legal processes must be streamlined to allow mental health professionals to treat the homeless who are treatment resistant. The punishment for serious drug possession should be amended and increased so as to provide incentives for addicts to engage in treatment in lieu of jail time.
There are those who resist the emergency shelter paradigm dismiss it as only a temporary fix. They want nothing done if it isn’t a perfect solution. Some accept the homeless encampment status quo and use it to rail against the unfairness and economic inequality of our society. This attitude is unfortunately held by many tasked to remediate the problem. It is time for city and county leaders to confront the lawlessness associated with street encampments. If politicians continue to ignore the violence, health and fire hazards resulting from them, city residents will be forced to seek redress in the courts and abate what has become a dangerous threat to our communities.