Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Last night in my neck of Los Angeles (that'd be Venice) there was a community meeting to discuss the planned installation of a homeless service center on the corner of Flower and Lincoln.

Hell waz a poppin'.

The neighborhood NIMBYs who've sprouted up in opposition to this service center (in the form of a blog called Living in Venice, and some affiliated organization calling itself Save Our Neighborhood Integrity Committee, or SONIC) has done a killer job of community organizing in the attempt to stop this center from going in, and they deserve kudos, if only for doing the hard, grassroots work that we used to call democracy. And those folks certainly did manage to get their troops out in full force. The meeting room, itself, was packed tight with about 400ish attendees... a crowd which seemed to oppose the homeless center by about 2-1. I was there, as was my wife, and when we told the homless center's P.R. rep that we may not be able to stay all the way 'til the public comment period, she remarked, "You're gonna miss all the punching."

Well, we did stay, and the crowd did give an earful to Bill Rosendahl and to Rhonda Meister, the former nun who is the Executive Director of the St. Joseph's Center--the agency opening the homeless service center on Lincoln Blvd., where its thrift store used to be. The NIMBY contention was that "our neighborhood" already contains more than its fair share of the homeless. Of course, it didn't help that the primary speaker voicing that opinion lives in Encino (he owns the California Chicken Cafe, a restaurant that opened here in Venice, like, two months ago). When he remarked that Venice has been singled out by LA's homeless population, many in the crowd shouted, "Then why don't you take 'em to Encino?!" He seemed to stumble a bit, stammering, "Uh... yeah, sure, we'll take some."

The NIMBY's corresponding contention is, obviously, that this homeless service center will attract additional homeless folks, on top of the ones already seen laying around Lincoln. But not just *any* homeless folks will come (this being Venice, we're not quite comfortable blasting the poor just for being poor). Rather, the service center will attract "service-averse" homeless folks: the "bad" kind of homeless people. Why, exactly, a center which provides services to the homeless would be an attraction to homeless people who decline services is a question that never got answered.

It was by no means the case, though, that there was any sort of unanimity against this center, and to my biased ear, the most eloquent comment was made by my own wife:
"I walk through the neighborhood with my two year-old, and everyday I cross paths with the homeless. We have had both negative and positive experiences--just as we have negative and positive experiences in the local businesses and in our owh home. It is not just that the homeless people are a significant presence in our community. They are members of our community... I do not want them to 'get help but somewhere else.' They are here."

I give credit to Bill Rosendahl for facing a great deal of political heat on this issue, and not running and hiding, as would many other politicians in similar circumstances. I give credit to St. Joseph's Center for helping people who can't currently help themselves. And I give credit to my wife, for saying, above, what needed to be said. Homeless people are people, and if we're not comfortable with quarrantining them into a 6-block stretch downtown, then we'd better get comfortable with living with them across our city, in every neighborhood. Even yours. Even mine.

I welcome the St. Joseph's Homeless Service Center to my neighborhood.


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