If You Think You Oppose Homeless Shelters, Try Volunteering for One

I used to be homeless. Before I moved into senior housing, I was living in a women’s shelter.

Last month I tried attending the town hall meeting about homelessness in Venice, but I could not get in, so I am writing this letter to share a different point of view from what many in Venice are saying.

Few people are born into homelessness. It usually starts with a personal tragedy that spirals out of control. Single-parent families are often hit the hardest, and people with disadvantages get caught up in a system that can’t help or is too slow with paperwork. Homeless veterans and youth often get attention, but they wind up in a maze that keeps the spinning in circles. The majority of homeless people are like you and me.

As the middle-class continues to shrink, people may not live in poverty but still be unable to afford a decent apartment. Instead, they live with a family member, or in a friend’s extra room, or even in their cars. They take jobs that pay minimum wage or are only offered part-time. Sometimes people have to choose whether to pay rent or make a car payment, pay an education fee or buy food.

I challenge those who don’t want the city to put transitional housing in their neighborhood to visit a shelter or supportive housing, and volunteer there for just one day. There’s OPCC in Santa Monica, Catholic Charities shelters for women and families in Los Angeles, and low-income housing run by Thomas Safran Management. The list goes on to include many other remarkable organizations, but I can recommend these because I have visited them as a client and a volunteer.

Los Angeles, please don’t become blind to people who have fallen on hard times. Our middle class won’t survive alone, we need facilities that can help us transition while we are working to make it on our own.

Sylvia Mendoza, Venice

Let the Homeless Sleep in City Parking Lots

The 154-bed transitional housing facility proposed for Venice by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin is too little, too late for homeless people who need shelter from the elements and a safe place for their belongings right now as you read this.

There are existing places that can meet that need today or tomorrow, and already occupied to some degree by the homeless: the parking lot spaces underneath freeways, such as Olympic Boulevard under the 405 Freeway. Places like these are being used for storage or as parking lots, but they could be spaces where the homeless could be allowed to pitch a tent without fear of it being swept away to clear a sidewalk, with the addition of portable restrooms and on-site social services personnel.

Allowing the homeless to camp under the freeways is not a permanent solution, but it is what could be an affordable temporary partial fix — a way for many homeless people to simply get out of the rain. Sure, these encampments won’t meet government housing codes, but neither do the tents currently under the 405 at Venice Boulevard.

The city needs to develop a more rational approach to the housing problem than investing big dollars in a temporary structure on land that, if rented out, could provide money for far more housing than the postulated 154 units, alas not at the beach.

Michael Ernstoff, Mar Vista

Killing Trees to Build a Horticulture Classroom is Orwellian Madness

Re: “Out with the Old: Venice High School modernization means chopping down trees in The Learning Garden,” news, Dec. 20

I have written my fair share of letters to and several opinion columns for The Argonaut over the past few years, many of them on behalf voiceless trees. When I read Gary Walker’s article about the plan to cut down mature trees in The Learning Garden at Venice High School, I just couldn’t sit this one out!

I thought L.A. County was the king of removing trees around the holidays when former L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe allowed workers to chop down 650 trees, including 100-year-old eucalyptus trees, at Oxford Basin Lagoon in order to “put
in a park.”

But now the Los Angeles Unified School District wants to cut down a 100-year-old sycamore and other beautiful mature trees at The Learning Garden, described in the article as a “community resource for budding botanists and master gardeners,” in order to build a classroom for teaching horticulture.

You just can’t make this stuff up! Have I officially stepped through the looking glass?

Here’s a mad thought off the top of my head: Along with the dimensions of the lot, show the architect what is currently there on the lot — in this case, mature trees — so that the architect can tap into his or her imagination and actually design around
the trees.

Then LAUSD headquarters could place a sign stating something like this: “This stately, 100-year-old sycamore tree was going to be chopped to pieces so that you could learn about the plant kingdom, but that just seemed way too contradictory by its very nature, so we decided to build around it in order to inspire you to value that which you are studying.”

William R. Hicks

Marina del Rey