What about them? They have started dying. It would be surprising if they didn't. What hasn't happened — but will — is the numbers becoming concentrated. We'll see television anchors not only in skid row but also on streets full of well-protected neighbors who will not react well to being told that the sidewalk actually belongs to the person who pitched his tent there, and that drug laws cannot be enforced in these tents because they are "homes."
In normal times, it is almost impossible to understand why Los Angeles, with state and federal and county money, with props and exemptions and community groups told to stand down, has taken a bad situation and made it worse. How is this for a terrible idea? Take the single most valuable piece of land for development in the city (a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus parking depot on Main Street in Venice, two blocks from the beach), and instead of increasing the tax base and providing a broad range of jobs and housing, spend two years fighting about whether to use it for a "temporary" shelter until (and unless) Metro gets around to letting someone give the county a few hundred million and change. It must have been a matter of days before the opening of the latest tent city when the coronavirus began its assault and the very idea of getting a large group of homeless adults and families together in a series of closed-in group tents seemed, well, insane.
With tens of thousands of motel rooms closed, and many of them never to be remembered, why is now not the perfect time to replace a tent and a sleeping bag with a room with a toilet and shower? Why is this taking so long? They keep announcing they're going to be doing this. It needed to be done two weeks ago.
Why do people keep telling us that it costs $1 million to build an apartment for a homeless person, when we could buy or lease older motels for a fraction of that?
Regulations? As opposed to the regulations about public defecation, which are not enforced?
The Los Angeles mayor — and the Los Angeles Times, his last supporter in this city (actually, it's in suburban El Segundo) — have labeled it a battle between privileged middle-class whites playing NIMBY politics and poor, often illegal immigrant families desperate for shelter. Not exactly. The people protesting are more likely to be minorities than the street kids rocking out on the beach. The other housing crisis — the one where two or three families share tiny apartments, cleaning houses to make ends meet — is one we don't see but deserves our attention. As for the kids in the tent camps, I want to see them protected as well. Leaving them to shelter in public means leaving them vulnerable to both horrible disease and intra-neighborhood violence (gun stores sold out of ammo before grocery stores ran out of toilet paper) and leaving the police to deal with the situation after it's out of control, which is not fair to anybody. At the rate things are going, that will be next week.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.