There has been much political theater at the national level in recent weeks, with Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott sending immigrants who cross over from Mexico to Martha’s Vineyard and Democratically run cities like New York and Chicago.
The Republicans are making a statement about the lack of border control and Democrats are saying the Republicans are cruel for using the immigrants as pawns in today’s partisan conflicts.
Governor Gavin Newsom made some snarky remarks about DeSantis, and DeSantis said all that hair gel was affecting Governor Newsom’s judgment.
I’m not sure how any of this actually solves our country’s long-overdue need to come up with an immigration policy that makes sense, but we live in an entertainment age, when political stunts and a snarky soundbite substitute for smart policy.
I think we see this at the local level, as well. Everyone knows we have a homelessness crisis, but nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. Westside moderates and conservatives say we need more tough love; liberals and ultraliberals say we need more compassion.
But leaving people on the street year after year isn’t compassionate. Tons of money gets spent on this each year, but the problem keeps growing. Because of our great weather and socially tolerant politics, many homeless from other states come to California.
We shuffle encampments from one location to another and hope people will see it as “progress” when an encampment disappears. But once the problem has been moved from our backyard to someone else’s backyard – as happened in Brentwood this year when the encampment along the VA was removed – we tend to forget about the issue. But how many of these people really landed well?
It is not unreasonable for those who feel put upon to want to move the problem elsewhere. Just as residents of Texas, Florida and Arizona want to ship the immigrants off to Chicago, New York, Sacramento or Martha’s Vineyard, the residents of Venice Beach no longer want to be the dumping ground for the region’s – and even the country’s – homeless population.
Just as those in Texas, Arizona and Florida want the rest of the country to share in the burden of absorbing immigrants, I foresee the day when residents of Venice Beach will demand that the homeless population be spread around to other parts of the Westside, including Brentwood.
Brentwood has clout and has a way of protecting itself, but is that fair to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Del Rey and other areas that absorb more than their fair share of the homeless?
What’s really needed is a big, FEMA-like approach to all this: We need much more temporary shelter — and quickly; we need much more in the way of mental health services – also quickly; and we need much more streamlining of services (and accountability for results) from the agencies that are supposed to be handling all this. We need to federalize our response to both homelessness and immigration; it’s not right certain communities and states bear more than their fair share of the burden.
There is no way we can afford or build enough permanent supportive housing fast enough to deal with the crisis at hand; we need a strategy to get from here to there. We need temporary shelters like tiny homes and underutilized retail and office buildings. Shared housing can be a big part of the answer.
But in California – and LA especially – lack of land is a real issue. We need to shift the conversation from “not here,” or “let’s build tiny homes” — to “where, exactly?”
Where, exactly, are we going to put these new, temporary shelters? Where will the tiny homes go? Which buildings can be converted to housing? Which landlords are willing to take in the homeless?
At some point – quickly, I hope – we need to get from the general to the really, really specific. Otherwise, this problem will never get solved. We are fiddling while Rome burns.