Why Are There So Many Homeless in Los Angeles?

Tents housing homeless line a street in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

I left Los Angeles for Nashville slightly over a year ago. When I call friends back in my former home (for 50 years), most of them tell me I got out just in time.


Actually, they’re wrong. I should have gotten out ten or even fifteen years before. The handwriting was on the wall. “California dreamin’,” pace Mama Cass, “was no longer a ray-al-it-tee.” It hasn’t been for a long time.

Now everybody knows about the 36,000 homeless on the streets of LA, over 60,000 in the county, replete with human feces and syringes littering the sidewalks, along with rats, typhus and even rumors of bubonic plague.

And those figures are what we’re told. No one, if you can trust the comments sections in the LA Times or the Next Door app for my old Hollywood neighborhood, remotely believes them. They could be three or four times the number. And how do you take a census of the homeless anyway? They are inherently nomadic. But everyone knows they are everywhere, along those sidewalks, under the freeway underpasses, even in the brush up by Mulholland Drive. Maybe they should add homeless encampments to the Disneyland Mulholland ride.

But why has this happened in a place that is so rich it is the fifth biggest economy in the world by itself, ahead of the United Kingdom and just behind Germany? Can’t they just throw money at the homeless and make them go away?

Not so easy. It’s been tried, at least to some extent. Shelters, some of them well built, have been constructed all over the city but the homeless don’t want to stay in them. The reason is these shelters are drug-free zones and the homeless of LA (and San Francisco and Seattle) are anything but drug-free. Most are addicts. They prefer to live in tents where they can smoke what they want, shoot what they want, pop what they want.


So homeless encampments keep growing and sprout up everywhere as the syringes pile up.

So how’d this happen?

A lot of reasons come to mind, but it may be the most important one gets overlooked. Remember the words to that other song by The Mamas and the Papas, “Creeque Alley“?

McGuinn and McGuire still a-gettin higher in L.A.,
You know where that’s at
And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass

That’s the way it was when I first came to LA. We were all that way, “gettin’ higher” at one level or another, at least most of us. A new kind of freedom was in the air, but we never thought about where it might lead. We were supermen and women in our own minds, free of the constraints of tired, bourgeois society.

In a sense, the California Dream chickens have come home to roost. All those joints and acid tabs have morphed into syringes for extremely depressed people who don’t know how to handle life and prefer to live on the streets, medicating themselves into oblivion. Not everyone is a rock star, after all. Or an executive at Netflix.

Meanwhile, their betters, the elite classes of the Golden State, come from a society that was the same way but just knew how better to handle their drugs (still do). I know. I was one of them. I also saw the big shot pols imbibing then, not the current slick governor (and presidential candidate, if you can believe that) Gavin Newsom, although I certainly wouldn’t bet against it, but his predecessor Jerry el Moonbeam at whose Laurel Canyon home I went to pot parties many decades ago. It was cool, after all.


No wonder these people have trouble dealing with the homeless. They can’t face the essence of the problem, whether it’s Mary Jane or crystal meth. It’s back to the old Pogo cartoon: “I have met the enemy and he is us.”

It’s easier to look away than to acknowledge culpability. But even if all those Boomers beat their chests with guilt and self-loathing, I’m not sure it would help now. As the anthem goes:

All the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown)
And the sky is grey (and the sky is grey)
I’ve been for a walk (I’ve been for a walk)
On a winter’s day (on a winter’s day)
I’d be safe and warm (I’d be safe and warm)
If I was in L.A. (if I was in L.A.)

Someone has to write another verse about rolling on the sidewalk with fentanyl. I’d do it myself but it would make me too sad.

Roger L. Simon — co-founder and CEO emeritus of PJ Media — is an author and screenwriter.




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