Civil Rights

The Illusion of Crime and Enforcement of Poverty

By Mark Lipman
A lot has been said in the chat-rooms of Venice regarding “crime” in our community. It’s no coincidence that every single incident of “crime” that is cherry-picked to report is about someone who is homeless. The comparison and subsequent demonization of an entire economic class of our society has become so prevalent that homelessness in people’s minds has become synonymous with crime. 
 It is no mystery then, when we find that 80% of our police “work” and resources are spent on policing “crimes” of status and basic survival, such as sitting, eating and sleeping. The police in Venice are so busy with their “work” of enforcing poverty on the weakest among us that when they are actually needed they’re never around.
 We have housed residents in a literal panic, fearing every shadow, calling for more and more police to prop up some illusion of security, so they can feel safe at night. No doubt their fear is real. However, fear is easily manipulated and way too often leads to irrational decision making that exasperates the problems we wish to solve.
 The false solution – the myth – that more police make us safe – must be exposed for the lie that it is.
 Police violence is currently at an all time high. We have had over 500 deaths at the hands of the police in this country every year for the last ten years. That’s over 5,000 people – Americans – killed by our police in just the last decade alone. So calling for more cops to prevent acts of crime and violence makes just about as much sense as does putting climate change denier Ted Cruz in charge of NASA. 
The last time we got “more cops” in Venice they attacked Venice resident, Ron Weekley Jr., a 20 year old college student – breaking his jaw – for the “crime” of skateboarding while black. If our goal is to decrease crime – and may I remind everyone that the greatest crime there is, is poverty – the last thing we need is more armed thugs with badges patrolling our streets, creating crime to fill quotas.
 If, as is so often noted, the targets of all this frustration are those who live on the streets; if no one wants to see homelessness, then why not do something to directly solve the problem?
 The only true solution to homelessness is housing. For a decade now, advocates around the country have been promoting the Housing First model, the same one that is currently being employed in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is on track to eliminate homelessness there – this year.
 Now, the very first argument we hear from opponents of this plan is that they adamantly do not want to pay for those who are homeless to be housed. However, what is so difficult to get these people to understand is that they – and all of us – are already paying much more to keep people living destitute on the streets, than it does to simply provide the housing.
 Many do not want to believe it; however, the fact is that Housing First costs less – a lot less.
 In Salt Lake City, the city is currently saving upwards of $12,000 per year for every person they move off the streets and into permanent supportive housing.  Here in Los Angeles – the L.A. County version which is already underway is currently saving the county $20,000 per person, per year.
 Yet, here on the city side of the jurisdiction – for the last ten years – all we’ve received is more police. 
 Mike Bonin recently released a very well crafted letter, where he acknowledged the concerns of both sides on this issue, and then cast Housing First as something long-term that will take a long-time to happen, but today, he concluded, “we need more cops” – and that’s the only policy he’s pushing … the exact policy his predecessor, Bill Rosenthal, gave us with his “Vehicles to Housing” plan that gave us more police and not a single safe parking place for those sleeping in their vehicles, who just a few short years ago were the targets.
 Something drastic needs to happen in the mindset of those who occupy Los Angeles City Hall. 
Did you know that last year the City of Los Angeles spent $1.2 BILLION on police and a paltry $700,000 on housing … and this year there’s nothing – ZERO Dollars for housing in this year’s budget? How do you expect to solve the serious economic and social problems we face, such as homelessness, when we invest all our resources into police to maintain and enforce the status quo of poverty, and nothing on the solutions?
 Mike Bonin and Eric Garcetti are directly responsible for implementing the solutions. If that means opening up the city budget to properly fund proven solutions; if that means simply paying market rate in order to get people off the streets and into housing, so they can get back on their feet and start making a positive contribution to our society; and if that means defunding the LAPD to do it – then so be it – that’s what they must do.