Recently, Thanksgiving brought the predictable LA Times coverage of the glowing altruism delivered to the notoriously vulnerable and underserved homeless residents of Skid Row. Those who had the foresight to sign up to volunteer with Midnight Mission before the list was deemed "full" back in August had the chance to serve a Thanksgiving brunch "under a brilliant, blue sky, while a rock band serenaded the crowd." Even Kim Kardashian took time out of her busy schedule to ladle gravy and pose for photos. And as I scroll through these impeccably framed pictures, I can't help but be reminded of the socially constructed label "Disney Dad." This absent father swoops in every now and then to buy his children expensive gifts, show them a good time, and maybe even go to Disneyland, all the while posting on Instagram, pining for a Father of the Year nomination from social media. But when there's a science project to be done, child support to be paid, soccer games to attend, and illness to nurse back to health, Disney Dad purposefully resides far enough away that participation is not a requirement.
The homeless population in Los Angeles has risen 12% in the past two years, and the use of encampment communities and vehicles as shelter has risen by a staggering 85% among the LA homeless. Distancing solutions such as providing the homeless in LA a parking lot designated for their car/bedroom and a storage locker for their belongings have been proposed as appropriate allocation of 100 million dollars to address this crisis. Disney Dad would be proud. Especially since Los Angeles has been paying less and less in "child support." Since 2008, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund has suffered extreme cuts taking away 82 million dollars from housing efforts, helping LA find itself in America's top three most homeless cities along with New York and San Diego.
If a solution is what we really want, we won't find it in designated parking lots that enable us not to have to see homeless on the street. And storage lockers that prevent us from having to step over their belongings won't be adequate either. In fact, "outta sight, outta mind" is not legislation, but a way to separate entitled Us from disadvantaged Them. And for cities like Newport Beach, California, keeping that distance is an imperative way of life.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Newport Beach residents counted their blessings by storming out of a city council meeting that proposed utilizing a 12-unit building for those in need of affordable housing. Specifically, seven units for veterans and five units for seniors, with preference given to those who are both seniors and veterans. That's right, even on a small scale, Newport Beach residents adamantly oppose a helping hand to those who have served our country or are too old to earn those retirement dollars in the American workforce. Although, perhaps they have volunteer plans for Thursday.
It seems to be common knowledge that mental illness and addiction perpetuate homelessness. But how can we expect people to address these issues, get back on their feet and contribute to society without a safe place to sleep and call home? Lloyd Pendleton, the director of Utah's Homeless Taskforce, agrees. He helped bring the Housing First model to Utah, a simple theoretical approach: provide the homeless with homes. In the past eight years, Utah has successfully taken 72% of its chronically homeless population off the streets and housed them. With basic needs met, individuals can more easily see a doctor, comply with medication, seek therapy, address substance abuse, and learn valuable job skills. Disney Dad Los Angeles could learn a lot about fatherhood from Mr. Pendleton.
If only Midnight Mission's chief executive Larry Adamson had used Thanksgiving as an opportunity to remind Los Angeles that the overwhelming homeless issue was not solved by Hollywood's A-List showing up for a day. Instead, he claimed that this effort allowed volunteers to "affect people's lives and to make a difference when they have difficulty seeing that there's anything for them. That's a meaningful gift and the greatest reward that you can have as a human being." However, I would have to disagree.
Once the turkey was put away, Kim Kardashian got back in her Bentley, and the rock band stopped serenading, I doubt the residents of Skid Row were left with much hope for the future. And perhaps the most meaningful gift is not time-sensitive hope, but the gift of dignity, safety, and promise, things likely taken for granted by many once-a-year Midnight Mission volunteers. But, they saw their kids, gave them presents, and took their Instagram photos. Disney Dad has rid himself of obligation for another year.
And likely, Kim Kardashian is using her time to address other issues plaguing our world. "I hate it when women wear the wrong foundation colour. It might be the worst thing on the planet when they wear their makeup too light." Well Kim, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.