The Denizens of Tentopolis

Place yourself in San Francisco or Seattle or L.A. It’s rainy, windy. You just got off the bus. You only have $20 cash and you’re hungry and tired. Where do you go? What do you do? Complicate this problem with any of the following:

  • You have small children.
  • You are suffering from a chronic disease – HIV/AIDS.
  • You suffer from bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia and can’t afford, or won’t take, your medication.
  • You are addicted to heroin.
  • You have limited job skills or limited education.

You are a symptom of the disintegration of our liberal cities, and they are a symptom of societal collapse. These people live on the tattered fringes of a society that is unraveling, but we make the mistake of talking about “the homeless” in the same homogenous way we discuss “blacks” or “illegals.” Identity politics won’t mend this mess; it is largely a shredding of individuals that we’re watching.  

Those on that fringe haven’t much in common other than rooflessness. We know this because in most of the West Coast cities where homelessness is epidemic, the powers that be run an annual, one-day-only survey of all available street-sleepers. Officials train hundreds of volunteers who interview and count them.  Then they tabulate and analyze the data attempting to make sense of it, but that can’t really be done. Too many of the designations listed are too intertwined to separate.

The data from the 2019 survey in L.A. County shows a wide diversity of tragedies and/or malfeasance. I was surprised to find that by far the most frequent cause of homelessness is domestic violence -- and I assume that most of these are women, women who feel safer on the streets of L.A. than in their own homes. Just housing these women does not solve their problems –- if such a woman has a permanent domicile, she can be found, and these women don’t want to be found. But this doesn’t imply that they don’t also do drugs, or drink, or are crazy.

The next most prevalent cause of homelessness is chronic illness. First, we must ask if these people are really too sick to work? Too injured to function normally? If they are so down and out, why aren’t their relatives taking care of them? Are our families so defunct that we can’t pick up the slack for our less fortunate brothers and sisters? Or have these people just outlived their welcome with friends and family? Henceforth, I’ll refer to this facet of the problem as FFF –- friends and family failure.

The next largest group is those with serious mental illness. This issue connects to our laws about the mentally ill –- we no longer institutionalize our schizophrenics, our psychotics, depending on medication to control those so afflicted. If they don’t take their meds, however, they can become dangerous as well as nonfunctional, but our lawmaking bodies, often manned by the mentally tilted themselves, would have to revisit the laws and set them right, which seems unlikely.

A large number of the homeless are substance abusers. How many of those are also mentally and physically ill, veterans with PTSD, or victims of domestic violence we don’t know. These people are also tangled in the FFF net –- and we have to blame the junkie himself for that failure –- a family can only handle so much emotional abuse. 

We look at the needle-strewn streets, though, and wonder how drugs can be afforded, but housing can’t. Addiction is of course the answer, but that still leaves the question about the money and its source. Theft is the obvious answer. And prostitution. So the problem goes deeper and starts to affect us all.

I know I always thought of the homeless as those who were poor through no fault of their own –- the Joads from Grapes of Wrath. And yes, most street-people can’t afford housing; prices in central L.A. are so expensive that even if you worked at an average job you still couldn’t scrape together adequate rent.

This we can address governmentally because it was caused governmentally by ever-increasing real estate and construction regulations. Regulations have cut down on the amount of building, pushing real estate and rental costs sky high. With one-bedroom apartments renting for over $1,000 a month (plus first, last and deposit) an unskilled worker can’t afford it -– he’d have to spend over a third of his income on housing. This has pushed those with lower earnings out to the suburbs creating an impossible catch-22: you can afford housing in the suburbs, but you can’t afford the heavily taxed gas in California to drive back and forth from the city where you work. Hence people are stuck on the streets sans shelter and proper sanitation.  

That lack isn’t all that makes these homeless encampments so squalid. Some of that is due to the dysfunctional nature of those curled up in grimy tents, and this filth is another issue that affects us all. Mountains of garbage and human feces have resurrected hellish antique diseases. Typhus and typhoid fever have reared their ugly heads. Even bubonic plague is being found in the burgeoning rat population in downtown L.A.. Once the fleas that feed off these diseased rats develop the plague, it will quickly become a human problem.

In spite of the urgency that creates, there isn’t a quick solution. The problem is a spiritual, cultural, economic, educational, sociological mess. The homelessness stats don’t even count illegals, so how many of our fringe-folk fall into that category, we don’t know. 

Some of this can be solved by governmental intervention –- theoretically, but government really isn’t good at solving problems and it’s government that’s caused much of it, pushing housing out of reach, encouraging the decline of the family, abandoning the mentally ill, allowing drugs to stream across our borders.  But the bulk of the mess is lodged in the thinking of the street-people themselves because as parents, teachers, clergy, we haven’t been inculcating true and useful ideas.

We haven’t taught them about God. I suspect that most of these marginal people are depressed and hopeless, grown bitter and angry. That mental outlook will not produce productive, functional citizens. Without God there is no lasting hope, no sense of purpose, no sense of responsibility to something more important than your own satisfaction. Our schools abandoned such instruction sixty years ago, our churches haven’t done their job, and here we are with close to 60,000 people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles, over a half million in the country at large. 

We haven’t taught children duty either –- we all have a duty to our families, to our communities, and to our nation.  It’s not just the homeless who don’t know this; way too many of our younger generation don’t either, and add just one of the conditions mentioned above to a nonexistent sense of duty and you end up in a tent in downtown L.A..

Nor have we taught them how to be happy, how to be proud of their city, their country. We haven’t taught them how to get along with family and friends, how to respect themselves and those around them. We haven’t taught them how to love.

These fringe people are individuals with individual problems that all need addressing, and the solutions belong to us all. They require revisiting law and regulations, but also demand an attitude reversal for all who dwell amongst the dung and needles of our once-great cities.

The data in this article came from this website.

Deana Chadwell blogs at www.ASingleWindow.com. She is also an adjunct professor and department head at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. She teaches writing and public speaking.

Place yourself in San Francisco or Seattle or L.A. It’s rainy, windy. You just got off the bus. You only have $20 cash and you’re hungry and tired. Where do you go? What do you do? Complicate this problem with any of the following:

  • You have small children.
  • You are suffering from a chronic disease – HIV/AIDS.
  • You suffer from bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia and can’t afford, or won’t take, your medication.
  • You are addicted to heroin.
  • You have limited job skills or limited education.

You are a symptom of the disintegration of our liberal cities, and they are a symptom of societal collapse. These people live on the tattered fringes of a society that is unraveling, but we make the mistake of talking about “the homeless” in the same homogenous way we discuss “blacks” or “illegals.” Identity politics won’t mend this mess; it is largely a shredding of individuals that we’re watching.  

Those on that fringe haven’t much in common other than rooflessness. We know this because in most of the West Coast cities where homelessness is epidemic, the powers that be run an annual, one-day-only survey of all available street-sleepers. Officials train hundreds of volunteers who interview and count them.  Then they tabulate and analyze the data attempting to make sense of it, but that can’t really be done. Too many of the designations listed are too intertwined to separate.

The data from the 2019 survey in L.A. County shows a wide diversity of tragedies and/or malfeasance. I was surprised to find that by far the most frequent cause of homelessness is domestic violence -- and I assume that most of these are women, women who feel safer on the streets of L.A. than in their own homes. Just housing these women does not solve their problems –- if such a woman has a permanent domicile, she can be found, and these women don’t want to be found. But this doesn’t imply that they don’t also do drugs, or drink, or are crazy.

The next most prevalent cause of homelessness is chronic illness. First, we must ask if these people are really too sick to work? Too injured to function normally? If they are so down and out, why aren’t their relatives taking care of them? Are our families so defunct that we can’t pick up the slack for our less fortunate brothers and sisters? Or have these people just outlived their welcome with friends and family? Henceforth, I’ll refer to this facet of the problem as FFF –- friends and family failure.

The next largest group is those with serious mental illness. This issue connects to our laws about the mentally ill –- we no longer institutionalize our schizophrenics, our psychotics, depending on medication to control those so afflicted. If they don’t take their meds, however, they can become dangerous as well as nonfunctional, but our lawmaking bodies, often manned by the mentally tilted themselves, would have to revisit the laws and set them right, which seems unlikely.

A large number of the homeless are substance abusers. How many of those are also mentally and physically ill, veterans with PTSD, or victims of domestic violence we don’t know. These people are also tangled in the FFF net –- and we have to blame the junkie himself for that failure –- a family can only handle so much emotional abuse. 

We look at the needle-strewn streets, though, and wonder how drugs can be afforded, but housing can’t. Addiction is of course the answer, but that still leaves the question about the money and its source. Theft is the obvious answer. And prostitution. So the problem goes deeper and starts to affect us all.

I know I always thought of the homeless as those who were poor through no fault of their own –- the Joads from Grapes of Wrath. And yes, most street-people can’t afford housing; prices in central L.A. are so expensive that even if you worked at an average job you still couldn’t scrape together adequate rent.

This we can address governmentally because it was caused governmentally by ever-increasing real estate and construction regulations. Regulations have cut down on the amount of building, pushing real estate and rental costs sky high. With one-bedroom apartments renting for over $1,000 a month (plus first, last and deposit) an unskilled worker can’t afford it -– he’d have to spend over a third of his income on housing. This has pushed those with lower earnings out to the suburbs creating an impossible catch-22: you can afford housing in the suburbs, but you can’t afford the heavily taxed gas in California to drive back and forth from the city where you work. Hence people are stuck on the streets sans shelter and proper sanitation.  

That lack isn’t all that makes these homeless encampments so squalid. Some of that is due to the dysfunctional nature of those curled up in grimy tents, and this filth is another issue that affects us all. Mountains of garbage and human feces have resurrected hellish antique diseases. Typhus and typhoid fever have reared their ugly heads. Even bubonic plague is being found in the burgeoning rat population in downtown L.A.. Once the fleas that feed off these diseased rats develop the plague, it will quickly become a human problem.

In spite of the urgency that creates, there isn’t a quick solution. The problem is a spiritual, cultural, economic, educational, sociological mess. The homelessness stats don’t even count illegals, so how many of our fringe-folk fall into that category, we don’t know. 

Some of this can be solved by governmental intervention –- theoretically, but government really isn’t good at solving problems and it’s government that’s caused much of it, pushing housing out of reach, encouraging the decline of the family, abandoning the mentally ill, allowing drugs to stream across our borders.  But the bulk of the mess is lodged in the thinking of the street-people themselves because as parents, teachers, clergy, we haven’t been inculcating true and useful ideas.

We haven’t taught them about God. I suspect that most of these marginal people are depressed and hopeless, grown bitter and angry. That mental outlook will not produce productive, functional citizens. Without God there is no lasting hope, no sense of purpose, no sense of responsibility to something more important than your own satisfaction. Our schools abandoned such instruction sixty years ago, our churches haven’t done their job, and here we are with close to 60,000 people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles, over a half million in the country at large. 

We haven’t taught children duty either –- we all have a duty to our families, to our communities, and to our nation.  It’s not just the homeless who don’t know this; way too many of our younger generation don’t either, and add just one of the conditions mentioned above to a nonexistent sense of duty and you end up in a tent in downtown L.A..

Nor have we taught them how to be happy, how to be proud of their city, their country. We haven’t taught them how to get along with family and friends, how to respect themselves and those around them. We haven’t taught them how to love.

These fringe people are individuals with individual problems that all need addressing, and the solutions belong to us all. They require revisiting law and regulations, but also demand an attitude reversal for all who dwell amongst the dung and needles of our once-great cities.

The data in this article came from this website.

Deana Chadwell blogs at www.ASingleWindow.com. She is also an adjunct professor and department head at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. She teaches writing and public speaking.