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Homeless in Los Angeles


I saw a lot of homeless people in Los Angeles. They favor the area for the warm climate and because California makes it easy for them to stay there, by treating homelessness as a “lifestyle choice” instead of a crime. We have homeless people in the jungle too, but we treat it as a crime, and so they hide in the trees and bushes on vacant land, usually. Not so in Los Angeles. They hang out all day, every day, in public. A huge number of them cluster in Santa Monica and in Venice just to the south, as you can see on this map (zoom in on Marina Del Ray, and you will see Santa Monica and Venice).

Los Angeles’ homeless population has increased more than 12 percent since 2013, reaching nearly 45,000 people. Even homeless activists acknowledge that many homeless people are homeless by choice, though they couch it in terms of preferring the benefits that homelessness offers instead of preferring homelessness itself. A 2008 study showed that some homeless people are mentally ill (26 percent, compared to 6 percent in the general population), many others are drug addicts (68 percent), while still others simply like the freedom, anonymity and lack of responsibilities that being homeless offers. Many young people in urban areas simply find being homeless easier than getting a job.

While some activists claim that LA is unfriendly to the homeless, the homeless people I saw seemed to be quite comfortable. Many of them had nice sleeping bags, backpacks, and other accoutrements which indicated a rather comfortable, if boring, life on the streets of Los Angeles. Some of them were clearly mentally ill, being dirty, unkempt, and carrying on vigorous conversations with no one. But most of them seemed comfortable, just sitting around and passing the time.

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Lest you get the idea that I am anti-homeless, let me clarify that I am indeed anti-homeless. Not against the people themselves, but against the antisocial behavior, the act of being homeless. Many people in the United States are homeless simply because places like California make it easy for them to behave that way. If towns and cities make the condition sufficiently uncomfortable, people will make more of an effort not to be homeless. Martians are big believers in negative reinforcement. Much as the threat of prison or execution is a disincentive to be a burglar or a murderer. (Never mind that some mentally-deficient people actually claim that the death penalty is not a deterrent to criminals; death indisputably prevents the typical recidivist criminal from committing more crimes.)

Kirsty MacColl’s song, “Walking Down Madison,” points out that it’s not much of a step downward to becoming homeless. That’s true, it’s not. But places like California enable homelessness, and as any drug counselor will tell you, enablers only make the problem worse. And it’s the enablers who suffer along with the person who is displaying the aberrant behavior.

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