Two Major Issues
*Homeless Encampments and Antiquated Power Grids/ Transmission Lines*
One Common Theme
In order to make this world a better place, I would focus efforts on my city and state, addressing two disparate items – the deplorable homeless crisis and the dangerously antiquated electrical power grids and lines – both of which have caused catastrophic wildfires bringing Los Angeles and California to its knees.
The 5th largest World economy, California, now has the distinction of having the largest homeless population in the United States and reliance on our outdated electrical transmission lines, sparked a fire last year which led to one of the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history forcing a bankruptcy filing for the largest utility company.
The size and scope of these issues will not be resolved with a “band-aid approach.” We need to understand systemic causes. With the power companies, state and local investigations have concluded, failures from power transmission lines have ignited deadly wildfires. The causes have been identified and the solution is a monstrous upgrading of the power grids and transmission lines throughout the state. The homeless problem and its systemic roots, considering the various categories and age groups, are not that easy to diagnose as there is a myriad of issues that may lead to homelessness.
Homeless encampments are everywhere – under freeway overpasses, in front or behind stores and businesses, along dry riverbeds and in the hillsides. Cities do periodic sweeps which will temporarily displace the homeless encampments. However, most will return to the same areas within a couple of weeks. The utility companies’ attempts to prevent their equipment from sparking massive wildfires have been pre-emptive shutdowns of transmission lines leading to massive blackouts during the fall Santa Ana wind conditions. However, these Santa Ana wind events are not a new phenomenon for California and while other states have modernized their equipment and transmission lines to avoid failure during high winds, California prefers “to remain in the dark.”
While the state leads the country with the largest homeless population, my city, the economic powerhouse, Los Angeles, takes the “Number Two” spot in the nation for its staggering figures of homeless people. Los Angeles County has approximately 59,000 homeless which is a 12% jump from 2018 and LA City records 36,300 representing a 16% increase from a year ago. The “unsheltered homeless” represent 75% or 44,000 people for both LA City and County.
There are countless public health risks associated with all these homeless areas and additional risks to persons and properties due to the locations of many of these makeshift encampments – the bone-dry hillsides that make up a significant part of the topography of Southern California.
In one homeless encampment, an open cooking site ignited a fire and pushed by strong Santa Ana winds through the Santa Monica foothills forced my family to evacuate for five-days in December 2017. Five homes up the hill on my street suffered either major damage or were destroyed. It’s been 22-months since that fire but there are still constant reminders as I watch flatbed trucks hauling wood and building materials or cement trucks lumbering up and down the street, as the re-building continues for three of the five homes.
It’s once again autumn and Santa Ana winds have made their annual appearance. The last two weeks have been particularly unnerving with three fires near our home. The first one was quickly extinguished but there have been unconfirmed reports of a homeless person in the vicinity of where the fire started. Two days later, another fire erupted by outdoor cooking at a known encampment of 300 people. Thankfully, there was no loss of life or property in either case. We were awakened in the middle of the night by the third fire last week which was visible from our bedroom window. Mandatory evacuations for approximately 10,000 people were in place for four days. Arson investigators determined winds ripped off a tree limb hitting a power line. According to CalFire, our fire season is now year-round even when we are not plagued by ferocious Santa Ana winds.
In order to answer the question, what I would do to make – Los Angeles and California – better places if money and time were no barriers in my life, I’d start with my premise, that the current magnitude of these problems is not being fully addressed at the city, county or state levels nor by the designated public and private services and agencies.
My inter-disciplinary approach would involve legislative changes and amendments, appraisal of existing services which would lead to enhancing current programs, adding new contractual organizations and major capital funding for new building construction and renovation costs for existing structures.
On the Legislative front, I would:
- Lobby for more stringent ordinances prohibiting any type of encampment in the hills and mountains. It would be a misdemeanor or felony if there is loss of life, and subject to fines and/or jail time.
- Add an addendum to a newly adopted local ordinance, which designated the “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones” thus allowing the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to clear people out of these hillside encampments, move them to shelters and clean-up at the encampments to reduce the fire risks. The addendum would make this a year-round task not handled only on “Red Flag Warning Days.”
- Seek additional government funding for ongoing clean-up of dead trees and brush in these “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.”
- Work to mandate the power and utility companies modernize their transmissions lines and power grids in a specified time period or risk heavy fines or government intervention.
To eradicate the homeless problem, my efforts would fund:
- Temporary shelters for the unsheltered homeless to get them off the streets or out of the hillsides. Here caseworkers would determine the reasons for the homelessness to assist in the care plan and transition from the shelter. Today’s homeless include teens and the elderly, families and veterans. The reasons which have led to homelessness in many cases are blurred.
- Job training and placement services along with transitional living situations or reduced rent subsidies for the acute homeless that are without shelter due to a change in their employment or living situation.
- In-patient services at rehabilitation centers for the drug and alcohol dependent homeless. Aftercare services play a role at discharge to try and avoid a move back to the homeless encampments.
- In-patient and out-patient services at mental health facilities for the homeless who suffer from mental health issues.
- Transitional living situations for those leaving drug or alcohol in-patient treatment programs or in-patient mental health centers.
- Custodial care and re-settlement facilities for the chronically homeless, those suffering from long term drug or alcohol abuse, severe mental health issues or those who have subsided on the streets “forever.”
If money was not a barrier in my life, my broad approach would require major capital expenditures for new construction or rehabilitation of existing buildings for shelters, treatment centers, transitional living environments and custodial or re-settlement environments. Aside from the capital requirements, new services and programs would need to be designed and implemented requiring major personnel resources due to the complexity and categories which make up the homeless population. In order to make “this part of the world” a better place now and for future generations, I want to see homelessness eradicated from my Los Angeles and California.
~RWISA Author, Peggy Hattendorf
Thank you for dropping by today’s RWISA “RISE-UP” stop. We hope that the message contained here has moved you in some way to RISE UP and do something; one small change could impact the life of another without you even knowing it. Don’t just sit around talking about the problem, be part of the solution. It doesn’t take much when you decide that you are going to RISE UP!
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