Homeless, Homeless, and More Homeless, As LA Braces for a Homeless Heatwave – Here’s What We Can Learn From DTLA

Homeless encampment

Looks like LA’s got a ‘homeless heatwave’ on our hands! As the cost of living and lack of affordable housing turns up the heat, we should expect a high pressure homeless front from now until far into the future. While some communities are just starting to feel their first wave of homeless heat, DTLA has been an epicenter of homelessness for a long, long time. And with age comes experience. Here’s what others can learn from Downtown when it comes to dealing with the homeless population.

To deal with the homeless heatwave, like any other heat wave LA must prepare. As the hot summer sun sets over the city of Los Angeles, a pressing issue lingers in the shadows – an alarming surge in homelessness. 


They are growing in population 

When LASAH released its annual homeless count it reveal a 9% rise in homelessness with over 75,518 people living on the county the streets – the world was shocked. But, not DTLA. 

Despite numerous appointments of homeless czars, thriving non profits, commissions, and billions of dollars of federal tax money, homelessness manages to rage out of control with even celebrities like Joe Rogan jumping on the homeless bandwagon to call attention to this ever gaping wound once reserved only for the streets of Downtown Los Angeles. 

Pointing fingers at everyone from the unhoused to the Mayor, plenty of tent paying citizens are fed up with the homeless shenanigans. And although, this year’s increases are slightly lower than previous year-over-year increases there still is no end in site.  At this time, most have come to their wits end after all the profound idealist planning, vast government spending, “project safekeys” charity events, donations and community strides running in place, resorting to the only outlet that relieves the stress – those three little letters found daily now on social media feeds… SMH. 

But don’t give up, if there’s one thing DTLA has taught LA is what not to do. 

“She’s  just like you and me…but she’s homeless”

There’s an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. This is noteworthy because, although the majority of programming allows us to thrive inside a workplace, surrounded by love ones when we get home, some of us have been torn down by our fellow humans to the point of no return. If you water a seed it may soon flower, turn into wood or provide fruit to sustain the village, however if you neglect and abuse that same seed it will have little reason to believe the sun exist, while that same seedling may adapt and grow hard, cold and relentless from being surrounded by weeds the entire time. Each new life will ultimately develop due to its experiences, making concepts like equality, dignity, and respect valuable keys to a society’s success. 

Not all homeless are created equal. 

One thing that DTLA has taught us, not all homeless are created equal. Our homeless range from newbie to vet, with varying degrees of street stability. Believe it or not there are numerous homeless that prefer the freedom of a nomadic life, while others are newfound to the situation trying desperately to escape.

And there’s the unpredictability of life itself. A layoff, an eviction, redlining politicians, a criminal record, drug addiction, mental illness or an unexpected physical affliction etc, etc, many factors can turn an ordinary person into an unhoused in much less time than one would think. When you come across the unhoused always remember that person was an innocent seedling once. 

They are not alone. They have advocates.

They prefer to be called the unhoused. According to The Guardian, the term unhoused began springing up in Seattle during the early years of Covid in an effort to rebrand the situation, and counter act the feeling that “homeless” had gained discriminatory, ugly connotations. And although the term has been perceived as too hard to speak…and as just another politically correct thing our society better cling on to our else, the word unhoused: does seem to emphasizes that the problem is a structural one linked to a lack of affordable housing, and not on of personal weakness.

Compassion verses criminalization.

When facing the issue of homelessness in our neighborhoods, we have two distinct paths – compassion or criminalization. 

The choice we make can profoundly impact the lives of all of us. While opting for compassion advocates understand that homelessness often results from complex circumstances and economic challenges, by offering support, access to services, and affordable housing solutions, they believe they can help individuals rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society with dignity.

On the other hand, the path of criminalization involves punitive measures by enforcing laws that target the homeless or pushing individuals out of public spaces. Laws to limit the unhoused from setting up tents during daytime hours to how far they can be from schools, and even homeless shelters have caused an uproar among advocates while giving the average citizen the means to call the authorities at any given moment. Once they show up, it highly likely the unhoused person will lose even more of their possessions, sometimes personal documents and vital medications upon which advocates say exacerbates the cycle of poverty and marginalization.

Replacing open spaces with alternative fixtures is a long used tactic in Downtown LA. Fences, sharp rocks, bike stations, oversized planters, sanitizing stations, and foot patrols work together to keep out the unwanted. 

Believe it or not… A little compassion goes a long way. By supporting local initiatives, advocating for social programs, and donating to local grass root charities, we can work together to extend a helping hand and create a more inclusive, caring environment for our communities as a whole.

Mental illness is real. 

Just ask the lucky DTLA store owners who sold the winning PowerBall ticket. Imagine being surrounded by local news outlets from local news outlets, only to have a stranger wearing a Psychedelic Water cap crying hysterically claiming she won the jackpot. Last seen running away from the press in a panic the women has neither been seen or heard from since. Nor has the billion-dollar lotto ticket yet to be claimed. Proving once again… the homeless can be tricky. 

In the wake of the aftermath LA is left to wonder, was she the winner or some mentally ill person suffering from delusion. News that she faked the whole situation didn’t surprise DTLA. As hundreds took to social media with comments like, “told ya” and “Surprise, surprise”.

Some even wondered if the woman’s nefarious act was a marketing ploy for Psychedelic Water, however we reached out to the refreshing water bottlers only to learn they seemed just as surprised. In the end, if she indeed is not the winner, this lady go down in DTLA history, but instead of winning the jackpot lotto, she’ll be known for winning the crackpot lotto. 

Better safe than sorry.

Opportunity knocks loud when the body is craving addictive substances. Believe it or not, most criminals are pretty opportunistic and many times spontaneous. Their impulsive actions can lead to purse grabs, and stolen cell phones mainly just because they’ve spotted it out and made up their minds in an instant that moment was the perfect time to commit a crime. Rule or law. Don’t expose your valuables, install cameras and lock your doors. 

The unhoused can live almost anywhere.

Last month, the world was shocked to discover an unhoused person living underground near the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. The world was shocked but DTLA wasn’t. 

Experience has taught the veteran unhoused can live anywhere, especially where you least expect. On the ground, underground, or high above ground, as did the unhoused man discovered by LAPD who used a billboard scaffolding to call home. While pitching a tent, also known as urban camping, may be the safest option amongst like minded individuals, who manage to coexist in such encampments, living underground is actually most feasible option for the unhoused as there are entry ways left over from the good ole days, broken water mains, and little interference from the law. 

Born again street-tough, the unhoused can survive under any condition and make for good surviving go-tos during a UFO invasion or Zombie apocalypse. If there’s a power outage or water shortage, best believe the unhoused know the way to a hidden supply, and have the means to set up temporary shelter, start a fire and reheat what ever they can find. 

They are excellent at math and make for relentless sales people. 

Ever wonder why a homeless person would ask for a passerby for 23 cents? Or how the panhandler can take rejection 8 times out of 10 and still throw in a “God Bless You” even if they don’t receive it? It’s because like any true salesperson, the panhandler understands the value of money and how every cent counts. They have the patience of a saint, handing out  blessings like a they are no strangers to rejection and seem to welcome it. The lack of compassion that would break most, seems to fortify the panhandler, fueled with determination, they will return to the same location time and time and again especially if the area is known for compassionate givers anticipating for instant karma or seeking photo Opps for notarially. 

Do Not Feed the Bears? 

If there’s no love, there’s no homelessness. And that goes for benches, enclaves, and thick bush, trees, and anywhere else an unhoused person can seek refuge from the elements. 

The community hubs of the Arts District are a perfect example of this. In all of our years we’ve never seen a district with as little compassion for the unhoused in DTLA as the Arts District. With its baron rows of industrial buildings and shade-less spaces, the unhoused will find little refuge here. There’s not a bench, fountain, or shrub upon which the veteran homeless can hide. Nor are there venues that welcome the unhoused, most are high end, run by non tolerant in keepers with little patience for their paying customers let alone dealing with the spirit of giving. Strangely, with a stern no-nonsense demeanor deters the unhoused, but how can this be?

The Arts District has a history of child labor, and Industrial Revolution mishaps making it one of the most historic areas for accidental deaths. Ir seems that hint of seriousness possesses the Arts District entrepreneur, to no end.  Nor is the Arts District known for lending a helping hand through social programs and local charities. No soup lines, no charitable spirit of giving, no homeless.

Operation Lonestar: Bused Migrants from are homeless too.

Attention: The sixth bus load of migrants has just arrived from Texas. And although, they may not seem like it, seeing as most migrants are perceived to come to America looking for better opportunity, seek jobs quickly and stimulate the economy through local spending. Yet, upon first crossing our borders they are exposed to the same raw elements as the unhoused for days and sometimes weeks. Finding case workers, housing, and good good Samaritans like Cathedral High School in Chinatown, to take them in, many will suffer harsh conditions upon arrival. 

With each new arrival, comes a spokesperson from the Mayors Office, “One bus with migrants on board from Texas arrived around 11:30 AM PT today at Union Station. The City has continued to work with City Departments, the County, and a coalition of nonprofit organizations, in addition to our faith partners, to execute a plan set in place earlier this year. As we have before, when we became aware of the bus yesterday, we activated our plan.” 

AI disclaimer: The issue of homelessness and the approaches to address it can vary significantly depending on the location, local policies, and societal attitudes. Public opinion, government policies, and advocacy efforts can shape how communities respond to homelessness. It’s important to research and consider multiple reliable sources to understand the current state of homelessness and the strategies being implemented to address the issue in specific areas.

Author: Keri Freeman

Military mom and proud parent, artist, writer, musician and film maker. Cocktail connoisseur. Publisher of DTLA Weekly.