Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Quote of the day: homelessness

The Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles on a 22 year old pregnant homeless woman in Los Angeles County.

-- "Pregnant, Homeless and Living in a Tent, Meet Mckenzie"
-- "Letters to the Editor: Homeless, addicted, pregnant — how can a failed city like L.A. possibly fix this?"

From the article:

Mckenzie’s family came out of poverty in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, and for three generations had been buffeted by domestic violence, mental illness and homelessness, and caught up in child welfare cases. Her mother, Cynthia “Mama Cat” Trahan, was taken from her mom at age 5 and placed in foster care. Mckenzie and Cat were homeless on and off during her childhood, and Mckenzie was also put in foster care. 

Young adults who age out of foster care after such heightened trauma are at serious risk of repeating the cycle of homelessness and losing their kids to foster care. It’s an ominous harbinger for Los Angeles, where multigenerational homelessness is not uncommon — and the system is not equipped to meet the needs of people with such profound struggles.

The Quote:

“The homeless system is not designed to address and unpack all of the other systemic failures that have led somebody to where they are today,” said Heidi Marston, who resigned in May as executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

I have made this point before, that people often have pretty simplistic ideas about nasty developers etc.being the reason for homelessness.

But homelessness is mostly a product of profound poverty, often multigenerational, and all the physical, mental, and social health issues that are associated with it.

And the cost of dealing with that is a lot more than "merely" the cost of providing housing.  And it's ongoing.

Not to mention the ongoing dis-coordination between agencies and programs.  Even with case worker assistance, a lot is expected of the program participants, and they tend to be people that don't handle program hiccups very well, which is compounded by poor planning at times by the agencies, and the failure to provide an adequate level of coordinated help.



At 3:58 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


I understand why advocates make the argument that homeless = housing prices -- it is a way to get around federal restrictions on more public housing.

I know talking to the director of the DC homeless effort that the majority of "families" (single moms) going into homeless shelters in DC come from -- homeless families already in the system.

For adult homeless behavior, the drivers are drug/alcohol and mental illness.

Just finished the ur-text that Alex B recommend "Homeless is a housing problem". They build on the observation that poverty area don't have a a homeless problem. Or at least on that the PIT counts can detect.

Basically I think they are taking cities and not regions as the base case and not asking why they are congregated in cities.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Don't remember the reference. (Maybe it was in a blog entry of his that I didn't read yet?)

Thanks. I'll have to track down the cite.

But yes, when extremely low cost housing exists, the supra poor and/or "enfeebled" tend to be housed. Maybe not "helped" to get out of their strictures, but they are housed.

As housing prices go up, this tranche gets eliminated, as does over time more "informal housing relationships" like someone on Sec. 8 renting out a room at extremely low cost to someone, housing family members with issues, etc.

Kind of like "Defund Police," "Abolish ICE," etc. it's very simplistic to blame the homelessness problem, in cities, on nasty developers.

It's very insightful to look at it the way the authors do.

Of course, as you know when you travel in rural and exurban areas, or supra weak market cities like Baltimore or Detroit, there's a lot of supra shitty condition housing. But it's housing.

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yep that's the book.

Lots of crappy housing everywhere.

Met a guy who worked on one of the projects rebuilding a DC high school. Drove up from North Carolina once a week and slept his in car.

8 salvadorans in one room.

Again I get it that the model there is some out there making about $1000 a month (around the minimum social security payout) who needs housing at around 350 a month.

But the later problem is at those price points you're mostly looking at people who can't earn any money at all.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Speaking of substandard housing, I meant to include a link to this photo, off the Bubb Canal in Boise. This is close to the University, a couple hundred feet off a main arterial. It's in a middle class area, with the exception that some of the rental housing, likely for students, is underinvested.

It's not so much substandard technically as super not well taken care of and reminds me of distressed housing in rural and poor urban areas.

At 12:14 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I remember articles in the Post about construction workers living during the week in tents decently hidden, trailers. Etc.

With work camps in Permian Basin or North Dakota, etc.

We know what to do. But as you point out, low or no wage people can't compete for standard housing, and substandard housing that exists is still too quality and expensive.

The rural areas house poverty but because it's housed they don't deal with it. The urban areas don't house it, hence visible homelessness, and the social programs are inadequate relative to the severe need. And the longer people are out the worse they get and the worse the problem gets.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

again the migration aspect is very important. Look at the LA times articles. I can't read the article (paywall) but Cajun people don't grow up in LA.

Also this:

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


Or I have a walls evader that works for a lot. (I feel bad but it's for research.) If you want a link.

The migration thing.... a separate series an English professor is writing about the homeless in Venice, also in the LAT. One set of 3 I read was not dissimilar, "California dreamin'" called them just like Hollywood does fir people who want to be actors or the Summer of Love, but they had even fewer resources, financial and resiliency, given their issues. And planning. You don't go to LA on a bus ticket with $20 in startup money.

At 9:07 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I realize you feel bad about the state of the county and national politics -- a disease that I think is about 75% reading too much and 25% of treating politics like sports coverage of your favorite team. We all have that disease right now.

But its just showing what a country that is realy looking at different things can look like.

If progressives/democrats/blue staters want to get to a majority, they need to convince 5-10% if their population that their system can work.

Homeless is major "blue" (Notice the sport team usage) cities is just a very constant reminder that the liberal nanny state is a real failure.

I appreciate the effort to look at the problem structurally and not emotionally --- as it the articles show it is a very emotional issue. That said, I very much doubt adding new housing and waiting for the filter is the solution here.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The article, wow. You could say the same thing, but change two words:

“The _health care_ system is not designed to address and unpack all of the other systemic failures that have led somebody to where they are today”

WRT paranoia, I've mentioned that author Sam Quinones avers that the greater potency of "less cool" synthetic drugs contributes to paranoia of users, and that the paranoia contributes to "shelter resistance" on the part of the homeless.

I haven't written much about the overdose crisis. It's not something I know enough about it, but I was surprised that the overdose rate is so much higher than the murder rate.

And yes, not only are there not enough resources so hospitals and health care are overwhelmed, but there is the "fatigue" of dealing with this every shift, every day, and losing your ability to do your utmost for every patient (less the reality that the resources you have at your disposal are minimal).

WRT BART, last year maybe I started writing a piece about how amazing they were for appointing a VP to deal with these kinds of problems on the system, hiring a scad of social workers, etc.

But then I realized, wtf should a transit agency have to spend those kinds of resources to deal with a public health emergency that because we're not dealing with it, transit agency and other public space infrastructure managers are being forced to (a big issue with libraries too; many big city systems have one or more social workers on staff to deal with homeless issues).

+ like with the Mckenzie case, you have the same issues of the need for "wraparound" services that are helpful, not full of gaps.

And the reality in all of this, and "government programs" aren't set up to be able to deal with this, is that the nature of addiction is that failure is part of the process in that it may take many attempts with ups and downs, before people are physically and mentally able and committed to be able to get unaddicted.

Plus also, from reading, apparently opiates, fentanyl, meth, etc., provide a different kind of high that's really difficult to resist.

From article:

At Saint Francis, hospital records show, Adam had a fleeting moment of clarity during which he seemed open to quitting drugs, just as he had earlier that day at San Francisco General. He told the attending physician that he was interested in information about detoxifying. Since it was after hours, he wasn’t provided with a social worker, but was given some printouts about how to get placed into a detox facility. In a functional addiction care system, he would have been placed into a detox facility that same night.

This is like the homeless story. Dis-coordination and silos. In this case, these kinds of services ought to have 24 hour intake. Don't waste the moment. Giving an addict some sheets of paper on options...

But in general, with personal rights focus in law (e.g., like the "medical freedom" position antivaxxers take) it's almost impossible to address this.

I joke that there are multiple ways to contribute to the development of herd immunity for covid. One is antivaxxers dying from covid.

Death by overdose, sadly, is how the system "deals" by not dealing.

It's not unlike the issue with DC and "youth rehabilitation." Basically youth get passed through the system, sort of exonerated because they're youth. Then 18, bam, all of a sudden there are consequences.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT your points, yep, sure.

E.g., Suzanne was just in Portland, and while there were a lot of homeless, it's not the hellhole that right wing media and the Trump administration suggest. She said otoh, "Seattle..."

The thing about "cities" and blue is that cities become destination points for people with problems.

If you look at these two articles, basically, the severe/profound homeless problem is a drug and mental illness problem.

But it's blamed on "blue cities." There is a good point made in the book _Black Social Capital_ about Baltimore and urban education, that African Americans "got control of cities" only after the cities became resource poor and troubled.

The right excoriates "the Democrats and cities" but the Democrats weren't the ones deindustrializing, closing plants etc. ("When Work Disappears").

But man, Democrats are pretty shitty at narrative, but then I almost think this might be narrative resistant.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

with the 5-10% and blue, you know I argue (wrongly in all likelihood) that there is an incredible potential agenda as I've outlined in the Marshall Plan and social urbanism/equity planning entries.

But there is the Thomas Frank "whatever happened to Kansas" thing going on. People are resistant to "help" because help also goes to "those people."

I've been thinking about the "Hispanics are going to Republicans" discussion now, in terms of the Anglo-Indian approach to Brexit/immigrants that we've discussed.

There is also this, very disturbing.

But I read something ("politics as sports") that now the Republican party is based on the working class, etc.

The Republicans aren't organizing them in terms of "how we can help you become better off" but focusing on amping up the resentment.

And at the state level, same thing with governors like Abbott and DeSantis. They are stoking the aggrieved, not working societally to become less f*ed.

E.g., this in the UK.

As long as you keep cutting taxes, especially on the wealthy, you defund government.

And yes, doomscrolling is a problem.

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Indians/Brexit.

Just one more point there -- Indians seem to be still be voting Labor there, they are just generally pro-brexit and the turn in the news is the large numbers of south asians in the running for PM.

From an intra-endian angle, its interesting so many of the are what would be called diaspora indians -- from kenya, uganda, Mauritius rather than the motherland. Javid was the only one whose parents were born in South asia (Pakistan).

On migration, it's unclear to me whether the newest congressional deal wold allow people to enroll in Obama in every state. If so I can see that changing homeless migration patterns.

on hispanics/GOP; we need to get back to Clinton era talk on reposinsibikity and hard work. Anyone coming from an immigrant background can see that -- that this is a county that actually rewards hard work.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"As usual" your last paragraph is incredibly insightful. I don't know why helping people means categorically that Democrats denigrate hard work... maybe it's because Republicans say it's either or, not and and. But I see how it can come across that way.

So after my mother lost custody 1969? I lived with the common law family of my great uncle (his daughter as wife of household and the rest of her family). I still remember a conversation with her about her husband's oldest daughter from his first marriage was able to get counseling because she was on welfare, whereas she had no such option. This could have been 1970, 1971. Really complex issues about fairness, working etc.

2. Interesting about the diaspora!


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