Los Angeles, it seems, is often in a housing crisis.
UCLA has a collection of historic photos of our city, and from their extensive archives, I pulled out a few to show that poverty, sub-standard housing, and homelessness, are life conditions that ebb and flow in both good times and bad.
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, some 25% of American workers had no work at all. No income, no livelihood.
Many picked up their lives and their families, escaping the Dust Bowl farms in Oklahoma and Kansas, and came to Los Angeles which promised, then, as now, some deliverance from suffering near Hollywood, under the warm sun, to get cleansed of sin and pain in salty ocean water.
But Los Angeles was not Eden. It had slums galore. Within sight of City Hall, wooden shacks housed poor people. There were many neighborhoods that still had unpaved streets, mostly inhabited by Mexicans and blacks.
In 1933, the average American earned $29 a week ($4.25 a day or $1,500 a year). A family of five, say mother and father and three children, had to live on that paltry income.
Under the leadership of FDR, the New Deal attempted to ameliorate poverty by sponsoring government work building roads, parks, planting trees, and constructing public works such as dams, bridges and post offices.
When FDR ran for his second term, in 1936, the aristocrat who worked tirelessly for the common poor man spoke these words about the oppressive forces who ruled the land:
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
What would Trump say to that?
It took World War II, and the enormous engine of wartime defense spending to inject money into Los Angeles. Factories, aircraft plants, steel mills, weapons manufacturers, all of them set up shop in this arsenal on the Pacific Ocean.
After the war ended, the government created housing, highway and school spending programs to provide work and prosperity for the State of California. So much of what we think of as individual initiative was created by the Federal Government so that Americans would have work and income.
Now, once again, we are in a new type of housing crisis with people living on the streets. Our new cruelty is compounded by an opulent prosperity that has dropped great real estate riches on many who bought cheap, or inherited property, or by sheer luck ended up in the right favored neighborhood.
But tens of thousands are living in cars, sleeping on trains, camping out under bridges and along rivers.
And how we meet this challenge, which sickens, disgraces and saddens us all, will be the next great test of character in the city of Los Angeles.
Easy answers about arresting people, deporting them, rounding them up and shipping them to desert camps tempt us. We think every dirty, distressed man and woman on the sidewalk is a lazy alcoholic, a lost drug addict, a violent, crazed criminal.
Yes, character counts, that announcer on KNX 1070 intones.
And it is hard not to hate the debasement of our parks, the volume of garbage, of shopping carts, of debris, stacked up like mountains along the freeways, under the overpasses, along skid row, and in every single alley in Los Angeles. Needles, feces, and beer cans are not compatible with little children playing on the swings in Woodley Park.
It is all becoming monstrous. Our city is slipping into a kind of hell.
But where is the humanity and where is the law and where does reason meet mercy so that we come to some guiding policies to end the barbarism of allowing encampments of lost souls to wander and fall down under the blue skies in the City of Angels?
Perhaps we un-officials need to start doing work, to prepare ourselves to heal, to care, to mend, to bring together this grieving metropolis of want, while waiting for deliverance from the Mayor and the Almighty.
But what, dear God, is the way forward?
“For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you.”- Isaiah 54:7