In the glittering heart of West Hollywood, a harsh reality lurks just under the surface as people living on the streets struggle with poverty and severe mental illness. The CARE Act, slated to take effect statewide in December 2024, acknowledges this growing crisis, but its proposed solution has been met with criticism as both inhumane and unconstitutional.
Advocates for the homeless argue that California possesses the resources to fund essential care and affordable housing— while still safeguarding dignity and privacy. California already grapples with a severe shortage of qualified service providers, mental health facilities, and affordable housing units. But despite this, the CARE Act neglects to allocate any funding for housing and fails to introduce new rights or benefits for unhoused people. Instead, it risks triggering the widespread institutionalization of unhoused people battling mental illness.
But in the midst of hysteria and politically expedient solutions, we overlook what truly matters: the human element. I spoke with those impacted by homelessness in West Hollywood, exploring life on the streets, policing and surveillance, and the struggle to survive in a post COVID world.
Jefferson: My name is Jefferson. I’ve lived out here for three years. I grew up in Orange County, but while I’m out here in Hollywood, I don’t have a residency all the time. I’m an artist, so I like hanging out in a certain area where my interests are. And you know what’s cool about Hollywood? That there really are stars that jump in their car and they drive around. It brings a little moral boost when you see something like that. The place has changed a lot. Life’s never been easy out here. I see a lot of people come and go. I know some people that are out here homeless because they can’t live with their family any more. Some people come out here and they’re homeless because they want to experience life and see what things happen. But a lot of people are just caught in the moment.
It’s hard and discouraging. And it can be real scary. And some places, it can go really bad. Know your boundaries. I don’t encourage tenting. I mean, if you have a tent, set it up on the sidewalk. Just have it up in the morning before the store owner comes out and pisses on you. Or don’t piss all over the side of the street! When I tented, I used it because it gets cold at night. I like to sleep in a bed sometimes, and that’s the closest I can get from a bed. It’s cheaper than paying $500, $600 for a motel room. I go downtown and try not to get busted by the cops or whatever.
West: What are the cops like out here now?
Jefferson: I don’t regret the policies they have because I know in the long run they really do provide some safety, you know? That doesn’t mean it always happens though.
West: I know what you mean. I kind of have a complicated relationship with the Sheriffs out here.
Jefferson: Yeah, I worry like if I got a place, they would boot me out and evict me right away. I feel kind of discarded. I always have that fear.
West: Since the lockdowns and COVID, have you noticed any difference?
Jefferson: I have. That was horrible. Like, you couldn’t buy anything. That’s a little bit scary when you gotta tell the whole United States start wearing a mask! Stay six feet away! I saw a lot of stuff like separating people, and arguments. I mean, if it happens again, the closure, I hope they handle it better. If you’re gonna do that, master the economy and know what you’re doing.
West: What’s the attitude of people around here towards homeless people?
Jefferson: They’re aware of people that are homeless, but when you look at somebody, you can’t just say, oh, they’re homeless. It’s morally wrong. Cause the people I know, they’re homeless because they don’t have a house… and it didn’t have anything to do with drugs. It didn’t have to do anything with gangs, people, nothing. You know what it had to deal with? Where I was going to lay my head down at night. I’ve had to sleep on the sidewalk. I’ve had to sleep in old burnt out buildings. I try to make the best of it. If it was truly up to me, I would have already went in, opened up that front door, closed it, and probably went to watch some TV.
Here’s another thing, I like programs that go out and feed people. When I was in a community of giving, in a system that worked, you could tell the difference. It changed things so fast. That’s another one that works. I’ve seen homeless kids excel by just getting books and bags and applying for a job, learning how to do an application. There’s ways to get people off the street. Always use County, City program. They’re there for a reason.
West: Is there anything else you want to say?
Jefferson: We all look for happiness and stuff like that, man. That’s what makes us human. I don’t know, bro. I’m happy today.
West: So what’s your name?
Lo: Lo. Life right now is just, as you can see, people are just trying to bounce back and get things rolling again. That’s what I’m doing as well. You know, stuff kind of put me back a little bit. So trying to bounce back. I’m 22. I was going to school, COVID happened and my classes shut down. I stopped going, lost my job and got evicted. It was a lot. I’m 22 now. I was 19, 20, 21 going through that. So it was a lot, for everybody.
West: I remember when this place (LA LGBT Center) for a while they weren’t letting people in that were unvaccinated. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Lo: About the vaccinations? Yeah, it’s just a lot of things were shut down. People couldn’t go places that they needed to go take care of things that they need to take care of, me included. It was hard, I couldn’t get into places because of the vaccinations. Yeah, it was a big deal and people are just now realizing how heavy that was. Trying to bounce back, and seeing how long and how hard that journey is going to be.
West: I know what you mean. For me, I lost my job because they started requiring the vaccines, but I’m kind of worried about if they bring back the mandates.
Lo: Yeah. Same. If they bring that back, I don’t know. That’s gonna be… I honestly hope they don’t just because some people have it, some people don’t, but everybody needs to work. I don’t think that should be another barrier that people have to face. I hope the next three years is a whole lot better than what it was because these last couple of years was just hard. Like, seriously, it was. So I just hope LA and California can bounce back. Yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at with it.
Armando: My name’s Armando Miranda. I have been a Los Angeles resident since 2000. The last three years since the pandemic, everything just went into fight or flight mode. You could see the ripple effect, even the job opportunities. I was really depressed and so I just haven’t really made an effort to go back onto payroll. I do things that are under the table to survive. I found peace throughout all of it. I have a lot of alone time. It seems like it’s getting better and then there’s times where it’s like, is it really?
I noticed that the violence has increased since the pandemic. The encampments pop up everywhere. I know people have to do what they need to do, but it’s a little annoying when you walk the sidewalk and you have to totally walk around because you can’t walk on the sidewalk. The regular laws of being a civilian, laws that keep us protected, they’ve taken a weird twist.
I’m Jewish. It was really bad in the Jewish community, it was really bad. We had these small pockets of people, like small armies, where they have their own tribal leader. When I was out there, I had to really pick my spot. I don’t like that because I was tented up and just minding my own business. But people make your business their business. I’ve had someone literally try to sneak my pillow from underneath my head. I was like, seriously? I just couldn’t believe people out there! It’s just unlawfulness out there.
I mean, I’m not saying police are the way to go. For many people, I see that people have mental illnesses. I don’t think that the police force is the right answer for that. They just recently had this stuff where they offer them services and give them information, instead of just going and arresting them. I don’t think being locked up can help. There’s one in a Plummer Park, if you’re in need of these services, they have outreach.
West: Have you seen them around those outreach people?
Armando: I seen them come once, cause I was like, why am I still on here?
West: So what’s the deal with fentanyl, man?
Armando: It is such a game changer in the worst way. You just take a little bit and if you’re not used to it, it will take you out. Some people that I know, their family said they had a heart attack, but it’s just that the family doesn’t want other people to know the shame in the family. So they say, oh, he had a heart attack. But, I’m sure they got dosed out and they didn’t know it probably had fentanyl in it.
West: Do you see Narcan out there?
Armando: I see Narcan. I watched this guy turn totally blue and purple, and he looked like he was about to die. And out of nowhere, this other dude pulled out a thing of Narcan. He pumped one spray in one nostril, and then he did a second spray, suddenly his color started coming back. His eyes started twitching again. And then when he woke up, he was already up two minutes before the ambulance came. Because had he wait until they came? He probably would have been dead.
And then this other dude was at the bus stop at Pavilions about a month and a half ago. This guy got my attention. He was laying down flat looking like he’s dead, right? He was still breathing, but his breathing was getting slower and slower. And this dude looked like he was about to go any minute. So I ran inside and told the security guards this guy is not looking sharp, you might want to call the ambulance. This lady was just walking her dog past because he smelt like urine really bad. He’s one of those grimy kind of people that just live in their situation, full fledged, not changing or bathing or anything. But as stinky as this dude was, I was still trying to see if there was any life.
A couple days later, I saw one of the dudes that worked at Pavilions smoking a cigarette on his break. I was like, hey, what happened to the guy the other day? He was like, oh, the guy that died?
West: That must be hard for you to see people go down from the life.
Armando: I didn’t even know this guy. I’d never seen him before. He’s probably some wanderer from somewhere else and had a run in with some really bad drugs or something. I’d never seen anyone die before. It was just really traumatizing. It’s like two realities. His, and then the fact that there’s people that just walk by. It was really an eye opener.
One thing I did help this dude do was not die alone. Everybody was just walking past him. That has to be the most f—ed up thing to have to die and know that the world don’t care about you. It was just really heartbreaking.
West: Tell us your name.
Jordan: Jordan David. I advocate for public policy, try to help people who are in crisis, and generally just advocate for the community.
West: What’s your assessment of the situation for unhoused people out here right now?
Jordan: The situation for unhoused people is bad. The city claims to be a haven for public services, but it’s really not. A lot of those funds get diverted into rich people’s pockets. Law enforcement is interesting when it comes to unhoused people in West Hollywood, because their main job is really to protect the visuals of brunch. Really what they do is they try to get people over the border of West Hollywood without people seeing a visible beating up. But what they do is they get them into what they call a 4118 zone in LA, where LAPD will beat them up, will arrest them. That’s really what our public safety dollars are being spent on.
West: Something I’ve been asking some of the community members that are experiencing homelessness is about the new surveillance measures, like the robots and the drones. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Jordan: People that are unhoused simply need housing as a first step, and whatever building blocks are needed after that. Any kind of surveillance is really a waste of money. It’s another form of violence and really unnecessary.
West: What else do you think is important for people to understand about the homelessness crisis?
Jordan: It’s a policy choice. We have way more already built, ready-to-go empty apartments in the County, in the City, in the country, than we do unhoused people. We could house everybody overnight and still have a housing market. Landlords could still make their money. Our city leaders and the corporations behind them are deciding to keep people on the street. People don’t become unhoused because they’re lazy. Half of them have jobs. It’s just important to understand that these are people. People who live in your neighborhood and are your neighbors. They’re not some crazy threat. So, just to see people as your neighbors. That’s really the first step.
West: Do you have any thoughts about the CARE Court?
Jordan: Yeah, so the CARE Court is a lie. The name is a lie. It has nothing to do with care. This is a new way of mass incarceration. It’s a way to put people in warehouses. We already have that with the prison industrial complex, but this is a way to disappear people who may or may not be able to be forced into labor. This is how the Nazi genocides started. Seeing certain people in society as not deserving to live, disappearing them from public view, out of sight, out of mind, anything can happen after that. Seeing people as human is a great first step, but it’s not enough. We need to be advocating for people to actually access housing.
Earlier this year, Disability Rights California, and the Public Interest Law Project filed a lawsuit against Governor Newsom seeking to end care court, prioritize housing and preserve individuals’ rights to choose their own treatment paths. However, the California Supreme court declined to block the CARE Act, leaving unhoused people in West Hollywood and beyond left to bear an even more uncertain future.
Republished with permission from KPFK 90.7 FM Rebel Alliance News.