“‘I’ convinced ‘myself.’ The I that did the convincing was the one who needed desperately to justify the entire experience, to make it sane and right and okay and approved. Myself was convinced as the moral self, the part of me I would want to be a judge in a legal system. This moral part of us, however, in these extreme situations, is vulnerable to the overwhelming force of that part of us that needs to justify our actions. I am ashamed of this lie because it was done for nothing more than self-aggrandizement. There was no greater cause, such as saving lives. Also in the previous examples of lying, I wasn’t of two minds. I didn’t believe what I was saying for a moment. I was in control. With this lie I’d lost myself. Perhaps this too adds to the shame. It is the lie of two minds that is most dangerous.” – Karl Marlantes, 2011

“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.” – Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo

I was struck by Fr. Raymond Decipeda’s video post on Facebook, touching the hands and face of a weary, old man living in Alameda, an industrial corridor in downtown Los Angeles. He took his right hand first and showed him how to clean using baby wipes, while speaking to him in his native tongue, Spanish. He took another wipe to wash off the grime from this man’s face, gave him the container of wipes and then, a hug. This Catholic priest’s action showed me how we might be that speck of goodness to strangers, even randomly, by our policies and actions.

A hawk flying above LA’s skyline (Photo by Christine Ho)

The unsheltered homeless population in LA City was 39,168 in 2008. Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority now claims that in 2018, the unsheltered population has gone down to 22,887.

Recall Steve Lopez’s friendship with a mentally ill homeless violinist, Nathan Ayers, who lived in the streets? A film was made describing their friendship: “Lopez met Ayers four years ago [2005], when Ayers was a homeless musician on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Lopez learned Ayers had been a promising violinist, and that he had left the prestigious music program at the Juilliard School because of his struggle with mental illness. Lopez chronicled Ayers’ struggle in several columns at the Los Angeles Times. These columns inspired readers to send instruments to Ayers through Lopez. The friendship that Lopez formed with Ayers eventually helped the musician get off the street, settle into an apartment and find treatment for his schizophrenia,” NPR wrote in 2009.

Recently on Jan 17, 2019, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti held the fourth annual homeless job fair wherein 50+ employers were invited. Garcetti recently attended the Washington, DC’s Conference of City Mayors wherein he was expected to make an announcement for his presidential run, crowding out the Democratic primary for 2020 to an estimated 20 candidates. Instead, a few days later, it was announced that he would not run, giving city residents a sense of relief that now, their mayor can focus his attention on solving LA’s social issues.

Sunrise at Echo Park Lake (Photos by Christine Ho)

I was listening to KPCC describe how the homeless folks can get a haircut, a shave, a cosmetic makeover, and new clothes, with employers waiting to hire them. At the same job fair, they asked folks to bring resumes and to dress to impress for these positions: “Direct Service / Entry Level: case managers, outreach workers, housing navigators, employment specialists, administration, finance. Management / Supervisory Level: supervisors, coordinators, program managers and directors, and similar positions; Professional Level and Executive Level: with advanced degrees such as MSW, MPP, MPH, LCSW, certifications; senior management.”

These are the jobs that folks can avail of and yet, we humbly ask – are these jobs that might qualify the homeless on the streets? Or is the LA mayor’s conflating a job fair with the homeless problem, so something can be showcased as addressing this intractable, complex problem, now 50,000 folks on the streets and climbing?

Would the homeless have access to computers to RSVP using Eventbrite? That was such a glaring red flag to anyone looking at this fourth homeless job fair, that it was not meant for the homeless, but meant for the employers looking for employees for their vacant positions. Intentions to solve a problem or a big social issue matter.

To the LA mayor’s credit, one can observe a marked decline in visible encampments, with lesser tents during the day. But, as soon as the sun goes down, and it starts getting dark, tents go up randomly in public sidewalks, giving the city a feel that it is one huge campground, spread out in different neighborhoods, without zero camping fees and of course, its consequence, trash.

By Thursday to Sunday, much of the human trash from camping on the streets, unofficially accumulate underneath freeway underpasses and near on-ramps, and on public sidewalks, where mattresses, garbage bags, strollers, grocery carts, paper bags, styrofoam containers, buckets, milk containers and even dirty diapers are found.

Channel 5 on Feb. 6, 2019 reported on City Hall harboring rodent fleas and the television station showed rotting oranges near this city of concentrated local power, with rodents feasting on trash and rotten produce. They featured an LA City Attorney alleging typhus infection from rodent fleas.

I wonder what happened to the Bureau of Sanitation in charge of collecting city trash – do they have roving trucks to collect trash from these randomly created garbage zones so they do not become permanent trash dumps? Or not cause illness as this LA City Attorney alleged?

 What if these city agencies’ decision makers stopped for a moment, and actually lived outdoors inside a tent? Would they discover that folks who live on the streets need the basics of cooking areas, toilet and trashcans? Would they readily find the resources to address their housing needs and train them for entry-level jobs as now their hearts have been cracked open to care for these homeless folks?

From ‘drive by’ to ‘trash city’

LA used to be derogatorily referred to as ‘drive by Los Angeles’ but we no longer have that designation when the local police created partnerships with communities to reduce gang violence. Now, we are known as the ‘trash city.’

What will it be for Summer Olympics 2028? Would we have changed the culture and designation to be regarded as a clean, green city?

If Kyoto, Tokyo and Hiroshima can do it, we can too. In these cities, residents start sweeping the streets in front of their homes and even hose them down. By sunrise, the streets are clean. It is quite inviting to walk to the nearest subway station.

In Dumaguete, residents get up early too, sweeping the front spaces of their homes, collecting the fallen leaves, trash and litter.

Recently, a Facebook post reported that 700 showed up to pick up trash and litter in front of their Dumaguete baywalk, a major pathway for runners, athletes and tourists. They also have been educating the locals to discontinue the use of plastic straws as fishes die and are swept to the shores.

In Sacramento, the city has started hiring folks who inhabit the banks of the American River to keep this river clean and free of trash.

LA City’s Build, Build, Build

In a public event I attended, about three years ago, I heard Garcetti share his policy of making city government more accessible.

He said that if the city staff were approached with projects and proposals, for them to ask the question,  “Why not?” 

Did those two words amount to permissiveness and no oversight to developers?

In using that phrase to direct his mayoral staff, did he pretty much give the keys to the city government where perhaps his intentions may have been to cut bureaucratic red tape and promote urban development?

What about balancing that with urban planning and city residents’ local needs?

We are now finding out that LA’s urban development is now synonymous to the displacement of the limited income residents and the lower middle class, known as gentrification and skyrocketing rents.

“Real estate economists are now forecasting that CA will be a majority renter state by 2025,” according to Mia McLeod.

Rock bearing a social justice message

Could these be the outcome of decisions by detached and unfeeling investment groups who maximize their profits by flipping real estate properties and selling them at the highest market value?

Check out rents downtown and you will find that they are priced from $3,000 to $12,000 – prices that are out of reach for most working families. Well, unless you are the son or daughter of someone like Eli Broad or Rick Caruso in Los Angeles.

As soon as the mayor’s two words of ‘why not policy’ became known, Los Angeles’ skylines were dotted with cranes and more cranes. I visibly counted at least eight cranes were simultaneously within a 10-mile radius in and out of downtown and almost choked the life out of city residents, signaling for us massive gentrification.

Right smack in the downtown area, close to the federal courthouse, is an unofficial tent encampment. It is next to a construction zone for another skyscraper and near newly built apartments.

Do you suppose the folks who live in these tents are calling attention to their plight since we cannot miss seeing them as one drives the freeway and takes the on-ramp from Broadway?

Is this not a city of unequal contrasts – folks who are on the streets with meager resources and nearby upscale apartments advertised in the thousands per month?

There is hope since the voters just passed, “With the state facing a massive housing shortage that has driven up prices, California voters passed Proposition 1, a $4 billion affordable housing bond. Voters also approved Proposition 2, a separate measure that will allow the state to use a past tax on millionaires to fund housing for the mentally ill,” KQED reported on Nov. 7, 2018.

 Does this mean these housing developers would get low-interest city bond monies? 

It begs the question – is Garcetti part of the problem or is he part of the solution?

Lensball taken by the clean Echo Park Lake (Photo by Christine Ho)

I know he has the smarts and political will to do it as he endeavored to transform what was once debris-filled, stinky Echo Park Lake to a bustling, clean water space, where millennials want to spend time at the lakeside restaurants or pedal boats, some of which are shaped like giant swans. Clearly, this is one of this city mayor’s crowning achievements, while then a councilman. He took an almost blighted area and renewed it to reach its full potential.

The question now is will he transform blighted, decaying areas of Los Angeles, Silverlake, Temple St., Alvarado, Alameda, Virgil, downtown LA, Koreatown, and other parts of the city, where the homeless folks set up tents?

Perhaps, we have enabled this urban complex problem by not doing our share as informed voters, who by our voting, have installed public officials who are much cozier with hotel and condo developers? Instead, should we  vote for those who are zealously addressing the public’s need for low income and affordable housing and have a desire of strategic public service, longer than their terms in office? Will we have the vigilance as caring voters to become community guardians and not depend on savior-like politicians in LA City Hall who still need to grow as diligent and conscientious public servants?

We need to stop the ‘lies of two minds’ and LA City Hall needs to be in alignment with publicly serving the needs of all city residents, such that no one is deprived of their rights to live a quality life and stand up to corruption, the public officials who need to be weeded out from causing any more trouble to others. They need not look to the temporary tenant in the Oval Office, but to the prior one who served with honor, the 44th U.S. president.

Let the sight of blood frozen on the icy streets of Chicago from the death of 18 homeless folks be not the case in Los Angeles. After all, we are called the city of angels and we all need to live like saints to merit that designation. Yes, saints, as we are surrounded by so much local and federal wrongdoings, anomalies and the ‘lies of two minds.’

“Strive for peace with everyone,

and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God,

that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble,

through which many may become defiled.” – 1 Heb 12: 4-7

* * *

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 10 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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