Report from California 2/17/98
during the El Nino rains

I'm sure you all know that El Nino is devastating southern California with torrential rains, resulting in flooding and mudslides. Governor Pete Wilson has declared a state of emergency in 22 counties.

What you may not know is that disaster relief applies only to people with addresses. At least one in 150 people was homeless before the rains came, meaning at least 55,000 in Los Angeles alone. The West Los Angeles Armory has been shut down recently by the National Guard for military actions happening right now in Iraq, eliminating 500 shelter beds that were being used by the homeless. Other shelters in the Cold Weather Shelter Program have been closed or endangered by flooding. But all of the disaster relief funds are being allocated for relief of the homed turned out of their homes by the floods -- none for the homeless turned out of shelter. Friday morning, Feburary 6, homeless activists and members of a sub-committee of the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition (a council of Social Service Agencies funded by the City of Santa Monica) came together to call for a county wide state of emergency for persons who are homeless without addresses. Homeless activists and Homes Not Jails will be holding a press conference at the Ocean Park Community Center, 1616 7th Street & Colorado Boulevards Santa Monica, CA at 5 p.m. every night it rains. OPCC is a pick up site for the cold weather shelter to the two National Guard Armories left in West Los Angeles.

The activists will be spending the night at the shelter to reveal the conditions that homeless people face while at the shelter, and to talk about the effects the rains have on people in these dramatic weather conditions. The activists are making an appeal to the United Nations against human rights violations in the United States of America. Among other things, they point out that discriminating against those without addresses in the administration of disaster relief is illegal.

Homes Not Jails recently gained national attention when they joined a squat at the Flamingo Motel in Santa Monica, claiming the hotel -- vacant for five years and the City's most notorious tax shelter -- for the homeless. Maguire Thomas Partners, owners of the hotel, pressed trespassing charges and had the squatters arrested.

Actions like the Flamingo Hotel squat are on the rise all over the country, as the income gap in "the booming economy" continues to widen and the numbers of homeless continue to grow. Governor Pete Wilson has repeatedly stated that the cities need to take more responsibility for the homeless problem. The City of Santa Monica was quoted in the Los Angeles Times (Sat. Jan 31st Voices) as stating that homelessness is a national problem not a local one. The County states that they have done enough and it's not their problem. The Federal government doles out block grants to the states and insists that solving homelessness is their problem. In the meantime, there are men, women and children trying to survive on the streets in rains of disaster, with no resources at all -- and no recourse.

Whatever you can do for the homeless of southern California, they need your help now. And besides getting them indoors, dry and fed right now, in this emergency, let's start making long-range solutions "a national problem" -- one that the *individuals* of this nation pitch in and solve, since no elected representative has the courage to accept the responsibility. They're so busy passing the buck, let's take it out of their hands. The buck stops here.

It's *our* problem.

For more information:
Homes Not Jails...homelessness has a cure...
P.O. Box 3622, Santa Monica, CA 90408
1010 South Flower Street, Suite 401, Los Angeles, CA 90408
Contact: (310) 289-7446 Jennafer Waggoner,
(310) 358-5916 David Busch
Making Change, Santa Monica's street-newspaper, Jennafer Waggoner, editor

Homeless Columns ed. by Anitra L. Freeman