LOS ANGELES - Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed the crowd at Town & Gown of USC with encouragement. “We have overcome much bigger problems than this in our history. “
And, so began the summit hosted by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and the USC Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, called Unhoused: Addressing Homelessness in California.
A weighty group of participants offered up opinions. Two former Governors, four Mayors, two LA County Supervisors, a state Senator, even HUD Secretary Ben Carson, “We need to learn what real compassion is.”
Compassion did not seem is short supply.
The politicians and policymakers were quick to enumerate the reasons why the homeless population is growing and all efforts to fix the problem seem lacking.
FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson moderated a panel and covered the well-known issues; drug use, the mentally ill, lack of shelter beds and affordable housing.
It’s not a lack of jobs, said L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Northrop Grumman and Lockheed have about 5,000 thousand jobs available.
Housing is the barrier for them they can not get people to Antelope Valley.”
Senator Holly Mitchell went a step further, “While we didn’t keep up with the building of housing, and we didn’t keep up with building mental health facilities, but we did a great job as a state as far as building prisons and jails.“
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s first comments weren’t about homelessness, but about climate change. What first seemed like an off-topic comment turned into his call to start mandating the changes that could reduce homelessness.
“It never should be considered a civil right for people to live in squalor in the streets.” He said, “just like educating our children is important. That’s a mandate... You know what, if there’s a right to shelter, there out to be an obligation for people to come indoors if it’s offered.”
Outside Town & Gown, it wasn’t hard to find the very people that are the subject of the day’s opening. 86-year-old Geneva sat on a park bench across from USC with her belongings, neatly stacked around her.
She says, she has tried the shelters, but they were too crowded for her. We found Rhonda Sage with her head laid upon a blanket she’d piled onto a wheelchair.
She says, she prefers to sleep during the day, then ride the bus or Metro all night to stay out of the cold. When the service shuts down, she says, she has about an hour in the cold before she can get warm again on a bus.
Neither like the idea of being forced into housing, unless it was to their choosing.
Rhonda told me, she should be able to choose between a tent or a shelter bed, but what she’d really like is to find a permanent place that she could afford to call home.
Basically, the same goal of all those politicians and policy makers at USC.