Opinion

Councilmember Jan Perry: “Homeless Need Help, Not ACLU”

By | Oct 30, 2005


Let the debate begin… Los Angeles Councilmember Jan Perry represents most of downtown Los Angeles, including the much talked about Skid Row (or Central City East.) She begins the public debate over whether the ACLU should be on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority commission.

Here is her commentary, published by the LA Times today:
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WHAT WAS Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa thinking last week when he nominated Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority?

This is a city with 91,000 homeless people '” the largest homeless population in the nation. Of these, 42% are chronically homeless and have lived on the street for many years. All of these people have complex problems and complicated life stories, ranging from poverty to mental illness and substance abuse. Some have simply cracked under extreme life experiences.

These are people who need practical solutions. They need jobs, shelters, treatment, permanent homes. They don’t need excuses.

But the ACLU has offered them just that.

For instance, the ACLU has litigation pending against the city seeking to prevent police from arresting people who sleep on the streets at night, arguing that the homeless should be “protected” by what they call a “necessity defense” because they don’t have the resources to sleep elsewhere.

But what good does that do? If we leave people on the streets and don’t create ways to bring them in for treatment, the problem will continue. Homeless people don’t need their right to die protected. They need help.

We do have ways of helping them. Creating a system of year-round, emergency homeless shelters, for instance, has provided many with an alternative to life on the street and has helped thousands into better living situations. Public investment of more than $12 million has created 4,000 units of permanent affordable housing for the homeless in downtown L.A., and more is coming on line.

I have worked with the ACLU in the past, and I have witnessed firsthand how the group’s determination and zeal on behalf of the civil rights of the homeless often outweigh its efforts to find real-world solutions to a tragic and growing problem.

Is it truly in the best interest of a person who suffers from mental illness and substance abuse to be given the pseudo-freedom to do harm to himself or to live among people who want to do harm to them?

The highest incidence of crime in skid row is transient-on-transient crime. Is it really in the best interest of the community to allow continued drug dealing and open-air narcotic use in a community where others have recovered and are living a more stable life? Don’t the people who work and live in skid row deserve the same benefits of a healthy and safe community that we all want?

I think the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority should be made up of people with expertise in policy and people with access to funding for housing and services for mental illness. The ACLU '” which likes to waste time on symbolic issues such as removing the cross from the L.A. County seal '” has no place on this authority.