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Helping the homeless is essential in this Hollywood neighborhood

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For about a year, the growing homeless settlements near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Berendo Street have served as an example of how local government is failing two groups of people:

Those who live in tents and those who live in nearby houses and apartments.

The situation in this neighborhood along the East Hollywood / Los Feliz border is of course not unique. Multiply it hundreds of times in Los Angeles County, with its staggering homeless population of nearly 70,000.

What’s a little different, however, is that people who live indoors on Berendo were hoping things would get better after Nithya Raman was elected to Los Angeles City Council last fall, ousting David Ryu. in the district which serves the region.

A homeless settlement lines a sidewalk in Los Feliz.

An encampment along Berendo Street in Los Feliz. I understand people’s frustrations, says new councilor Nithya Raman, who organizes meetings with locals looking for solutions to homelessness.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Raman, a progressive candidate, accused city officials of being asleep at the wheel, and she had one affordable housing plan and one to tackle homelessness. And she wasn’t new to the conversation, having co-founded a neighborhood coalition called SELAH, which works to meet the needs of homeless people and treat them as full members of the community.

So how does it go so far?

Not so good, say the people of Berendo.

And Raman?

I understand people’s frustrations, she said. It has been going on for a long time and we are new to it and spend a lot of time understanding the challenges and solutions.

Granted, a lot of things are complicated, and Raman told me it was clearer to her now that it was inside. But I still hope that she, Kevin de Len and Mark Ridley-Thomas, new city council members, who have all campaigned in part on solutions, bring new ideas and greater urgency to the subject.

A homeless camp along Berendo Street

Residents living in houses and apartments on Berendo Street pleaded with city officials to help them set up the camps. At every meeting, they say they’re still working on it, says a resident. Above, a row of tents for the homeless.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

I have been in contact with a group of residents of Berendo since last July and they have told me repeatedly that they are not without compassion for their less fortunate neighbors. But they are exhausted by frequent criminal activity in their neighborhood, which largely targets the homeless themselves, and by empty promises they have repeatedly heard from city officials.

They credit Ramans staff for holding meetings every two weeks, listening to them and briefing them on efforts to work with various municipal and non-profit agencies to find solutions. But since Ramans’ experience meant she knew service providers, community leaders and government officials, they expected more than meetings.

It’s all talking, talking, talking, said a neighbor. This is a joke. Ryu has passed the responsibility and I don’t see what the actual plans are for Nithyas’s office.

The neighbors are not callous. They have sympathy for the many homeless people living in Hollywood who are really lucky. But some of those living under blue tarps in Berendo have intimidated their neighbors, they say, exploiting other homeless people and attracting police attention.

A neighbor called it the Wild West, with no accountability, no law enforcement. If you do talk about this, the neighbor says, you are vilified by some homeless advocates, much of the progressive Raman base for lack of understanding or compassion.

A pedestrian walks past a homeless camp on the sidewalk.

A pedestrian walks past a homeless settlement along Berendo Street, where residents of Los Feliz have reported incidents of drug trafficking, vandalism and theft.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

There is none of us who does not want the best for anyone who is going through difficult times and is homeless, but we also want safety restored for everyone, including the homeless. he said, adding that many elderly residents no longer walk into Berendo, which is blocked off by tents on one side to go to nearby stores.

Some of the homeless people on Hollywood Boulevard have been enslaved into prostitution and given drugs by criminals who take advantage of them, he said. (I retain the names at the request of the inhabitants of Berendo who fear reprisals for their words).

Residents housed say that for a year or more, a drug control operation has developed at the southern end of Berendo, cars and properties have been vandalized, bikes have been stolen, heavy machinery has been left behind. used at night, residents suspect there is a chop shop handling a stolen car parts and shots were fired recently in what police described as an apparent conflict over vehicle ownership.

Neither the mayor nor most city council members can differentiate homelessness from criminal activity under the pretext of homelessness, a neighbor said.

It goes without saying that if you are poor enough to live on the streets, you are unlikely to fake it. Homelessness is what happens when the gap between the haves and have-nots keeps widening, when the cost of housing soars while wages remain flatter than a dollar bill, when it doesn’t. there is never enough mental health care and when a drug epidemic keeps digging the hole.

Have some people lost hope and resorted to all means necessary to survive? Without a doubt, especially when, as we all know, the growing homeless population overwhelmed the number of new beds available. A woman I spoke to at the intersection of Berendo and Hollywood last week told me she has been homeless since she lost a job as a security guard four years ago, that she did not have a social worker and that she was not on any future housing list.

But I understand the frustration of people like those from Berendo, and I often hear about them. In January, I attended one of the virtual meetings hosted by Ramans staff, with a deputy town lawyer and an LAPD officer joining the conversation.

It’s good that these meetings take place, so that neighbors can broadcast complaints and get answers. But residents saw little evidence that much progress has been made to date, in part because the city has focused on raising awareness and housing for those most vulnerable during the pandemic.

When a Raman staff member said the council office was developing a multi-stakeholder homelessness plan and hoped to establish a model that could be used throughout the city, I couldn’t suppress a yawn. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all been hearing for years.

Councilors’ staff sent residents a follow-up summary of specific plans to review parking restrictions that may limit drug deals, to investigate theft from utilities, to bring in gang response specialists , to resolve nuisance issues around vacant land and to develop a system to protect residents against reprisals by allowing anonymous police reports.

But with the exception of some credit to the police for their efforts so far, residents told me they were losing patience that big changes would happen anytime soon.

At every meeting, they say they are still working on it, a resident said after last week’s meeting. And in the camps, his usual business.

It’s because things are messy, Raman said. Besides Berendo’s specifics, she said she was surprised by a lack of coordination and continuity of services between public agencies and nonprofit entrepreneurs, and she requested improvements from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

I don’t see any responsibility, she said.

She is happy to see the progress in moving people to motels and hotels, but she wants to know more about mental health and addiction treatment services and how they fit into a strategy. wider.

Raman said too many obstacles, like code restrictions, prevent cheaper housing from being built faster. Housing with permanent support services is important, she said, but it is expensive and takes too long to build and more options, like shared housing, are needed.

I’m on board with all of this, and Raman deserves a little time in power to start making his mark.

But as the lodged and the non-lodged would say, let’s go.

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