L.A.'s westside wealthy and the homeless collide as numbers surge

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Los Angeles Declares Homelessness a Public Emergency



On Sept. 22, in the face of his city's escalating homeless­ness crisis, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti took an unprecedented step: He declared a state of emergency. Part of that was semantics, as the term legally allows for the early opening of wet-weather shelters ahead of the heavy rainfalls predicted this winter. "But," Garcetti tells THR, "we kind of figured it's an hon­est assessment of where we are."

Where we are is in dire and uncharted waters, with a record 46,000 homeless in the city, a 12 percent increase in the past two years — victims of the recession and soaring rents amid a real estate boom that has raised L.A. home prices by 27 percent in just three years. Three groups in particular have swelled the ranks, Garcetti says: veterans, many with mental health issues; emancipated foster youth; and nonviolent offenders released from prison after the 2014 passage of Proposition 47 reduced penalties for some drug crimes. Many are migrating out of areas like downtown's Skid Row — where up to 70 percent of the homeless are addicted to meth and other hard drugs, notes Garcetti — and into the shadows of some of the city's most expensive enclaves. L.A.'s City Council District 11, which encompasses Westside neighborhoods like Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Mar Vista, now has one of the largest homeless populations in the city — nearly 1,500, according to one recent count. Scores more "hidden homeless" live in backyards, vehicles and hillside encampments.

To see more photos from the homelessness crisis, scroll through the gallery below:

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L.A.'s westside wealthy and the homeless collide as numbers surge
A man looks through a dumpster in Skid Row in Los Angeles on September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman walks with her belongings on Skid Row in Los Angles on September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait for a meal outside the Midnight Mission on Skid Row in Los Angles, California, September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Jackson, 59, speaks outside his tent on Skid Row in Los Angles, California, September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A police car stops beside tents on Skid Row in Los Angles, California, September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Tens are placed along Skid Row is seen in Los Angles on September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Tents occupied by homeless people line the street, September 23, 2015 in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles officials declared the homeless situation a public emergency. making Los Angeles the first city in the nation to take such a drastic step in response to its mounting problem with street dwellers. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A man sits on the sidwalk next to tents, September 23, 2015 in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles officials declared the homeless situation a public emergency. making Los Angeles the first city in the nation to take such a drastic step in response to its mounting problem with street dwellers. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks in the middle of the street past a row of tents occupied by homeless people, September 23, 2015 in Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles officials declared the homeless situation a public emergency. making Los Angeles the first city in the nation to take such a drastic step in response to its mounting problem with street dwellers. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Los Angeles financial district skyscrapers are seen behind a homeless tent encampment, September 23, 2015 in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles officials declared the homeless situation a public emergency. making Los Angeles the first city in the nation to take such a drastic step in response to its mounting problem with street dwellers. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk near San Julian Street, one of the central street in Los Angeles' Skid Row, September 23, 2015. Los Angeles elected officials this week declared a homelessness 'state of emergency' and pledged $100 million in funding to tackle the crisis. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Community members are saying, 'My kid has to walk by tents where people have syringes hanging out of their arms. Do something about it,' " says Garcetti, who has pledged to throw $100 million at the problem annually. The funding will provide housing vouchers that can be used to pay rent in any apartment around town (providing you can find a landlord who'll accept them) and will increase the city's homeless outreach staff, which numbers a paltry 36 workers.

In the Palisades, encampments line Will Rogers State Beach and dot the parched hillside along Pacific Coast Highway. (The number of homeless living in tents and cars has increased an astounding 85 percent in the past two years.) "As long as you keep your shades up and they can see inside, they let you stay," says Mallory, a 43-year-old man who for three weeks has lived inside a green-and-tan tent about 100 feet from the shore.

In neighboring Santa Monica, where there are about 740 homeless (a 14 percent increase from last year), police prohibit sleeping overnight, pushing street-dwellers northward toward the Palisades, which falls under the far laxer jurisdiction of the LAPD. "If we are harder on the homeless, we usually get sued by advocates," explains Garcetti. "We've had a lot of court cases specifically around whether or not you can move them at all."

But the influx of homeless has left Pacific Palisades residents fuming. More than 100 of them packed the local library July 14 for a heated showdown with law enforcement and social services representatives, many of whom echoed the mayor's sentiments: Their hands are tied. (One loop­hole: The homeless can be evicted if they are deemed by the LAFD to be a fire hazard. New signs declar­ing the hillside brush zone of Palisades Park a "very high fire hazard severity zone" are set to be erected throughout the area Oct. 7, a move met with much fanfare by the neighborhood's homelessness task force.)

Local papers like the Palisadian-Post and Palisades News, meanwhile, have mounted an all-out campaign against the homeless — with occasional notes of compassion — running horror stories like the one about the naked man napping peacefully in broad daylight on a sidewalk in Palisades Village, or, far more ominously, the case of Brian Thomas Cruz, a homeless man who in August 2014 held a Palisades woman hostage with a box cutter before embarking on a bath salts-fueled carjacking and burglary spree.

Most interactions between the haves and have-nothings are not so extreme, and Garcetti is hopeful that by beefing up social services, it can help the homeless get off the streets and stay off of them. For director Brett Ratner, whose father lived on the streets after years of drug addiction and who serves on the board of Chrysalis, a non­profit that helps find jobs for the homeless, the answer lies in helping these forgotten citizens to help themselves: "They deserve to get their dignity and pride back, reconnect with loved ones and get back into society."


More from The Hollywood Reporter:
Brett Ratner on His Homeless Father, L.A. State of Emergency: "You're Ashamed of Who You Are"
California Nonprofit Covenant House Becomes "Beacon of Hope" for Homeless Youth
Shia LaBeouf Arrested in Austin


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