A person on the Metro red line had been tossing plastic baggies of puzzle pieces at people’s feet on the train. Once, as the doors opened, she waited until they were just about to close, yelled “Dive Bomb!” and tossed a puzzle piece baggie at a passerby on the platform.
This was our youngest son’s introduction to L.A. public transportation. We’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to take him on a short trip somewhere in the city using public transportation. On the rides to and from Union Station and throughout the other stations, he saw plenty of homeless people in various mental states. Some were calm and keeping to themselves, others were loud and openly confrontational. I think it’s important to give him experiences that aren’t all sanitized and Disney pure.
It seemed like this person on our train had some mental health challenges, or they were on drugs. It was hard to tell. I mean, a lot of us have mental issues that aren’t as obvious, and some of us are on drugs sometimes. So yeah, hard to tell.
At one point, she pulled the cord to stop the train and open the doors. When an MTA worker tried to intervene and get her to put the cord back so the doors would close, she got angry and violent. It was lucky that no one got hurt, including the person causing the delay.
Thankfully, our son is even more curious about taking public transportation than before. He wasn’t too fazed by the incident and even started contemplating, “So, if I took the Red line to the Blue line, I could get to…”
When we lived in NYC, DC, and Portland, all we had was public transportation. It was kind of nice not having a car. When you get around that way, you get acclimated to living on the street — not in the homeless sense, but in the sense that you’re in the thick of everything, as part of a diverse society rather than existing outside of it. Here in Los Angeles, most of us are isolated from everyone else when we navigate our little bubbles through the streets and freeways.
Of course, we’ve seen the encampments lining the bridges and roads as we crawl past on the 101 freeway. And we see tents here and there in our neighborhood, or people panhandling outside the mall. But for the most part, we don’t have to deal with it. It’s like watching a TV show where you’re emotionally affected, but you can get up and walk away if you want.
And I think this is at the core of why our leaders in Los Angeles — and California for that matter — can’t come up with a workable solution to the problem of people being homeless. They don’t rub elbows with the people living on the street on a regular basis. Sure, they do research by sending out volunteers to survey the people living on the street. But I don’t think the reports are showing them what’s happening in a way that helps them solve the problem.
The answer always seems to be “We need more affordable housing.” While we definitely need more affordable housing in Los Angeles, I don’t believe that’s the end of the solution. Taking over old motels and building temporary housing is a start. If you can get past the NIMBYs, having places where people can shower, get a meal, and figure out their next steps is a fantastic idea. I hope the city starts spending some of that $52 mil they recently found languishing in old accounts doing just that. Start building.
But like I said, that’s only part of a solution.
Handing the keys of a temporary apartment to someone who is mentally ill or addicted to drugs is not going to solve their problem. In fact, it makes living less safe for those people who are homeless and actively trying to get out of their situation. The people with mental health challenges need daily treatment and care, not just a motel room.
So what is the solution? I think there are a lot of things to be done and steps we can take, but I think the magic cure for homelessness is simple: socialized medicine.
In California we have Covered California and MediCal, which are supposed to take care of everyone’s health care needs. And if that’s the case, why do so many people start GoFundMe campaigns to help make up for the coverage they aren’t getting or can’t afford? Ponder that for a minute. If we all have access to health insurance, why don’t we all have good healthcare?
Imagine being homeless. If you have to travel to one clinic to get approved for treatment, then travel to another to get the treatment, then another office to appeal being denied (it happens), that’s a lot of traveling. Without reliable internet access, a permanent address, or a mobile phone, the process of getting healthcare can be slow and frustrating. It’s no wonder so many people give up. Navigating the bureaucracies of insurance companies and multiple government agencies is almost impossible (I know because I’ve done it).
Now, imagine that every American gets a health card, with accompanying health care. And you use that health card to get whatever healthcare you need at the facility closest to you. Show the card, get the care. Simple.
I know this system can work because I use it all the time with the Veteran’s Administration. As a veteran, I just make an appointment, show my card, get the care I need. Simple.
The homeless people with mental health issues or drug addictions could then get the treatment they need before being thrown into temporary housing and told, “Good luck.”
In fact, this solution already exists in Los Angeles for homeless youth. The Los Angeles LGBT Center provides housing, food, clothing, job guidance, and help getting into a more permanent situation for LGBTQ+ teens. If they can do it on a small scale with private donors, why can’t the United States Government do it with the trillions of tax dollars we give them? Okay, maybe that’s a dumb question and a rant for another day. But it is being done.
It wouldn’t be perfect. I know there’s a lot more to it than this. But the core of the solution is simplicity. Give people health care. Not insurance, health care.
Anything else is a lie that, underneath it all, says, “We care more about the insurance industry than we do our citizens.”