On the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, over 200 cars gathered outside of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) for the Freedom Ride 4 Housing, an action put together by organizations within the Services Not Sweeps coalition. What would have normally been a march was a caravan this year, due to the high number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Los Angeles. With four unhoused people dying per day in Los Angeles, community members decorated their cars and came together to uplift the voices of their unhoused neighbors.
Services Not Sweeps formed in 2019 as a direct response to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Comprehensive Cleaning and Rapid Engagement (CARE) sweeps that regularly displace and traumatize unhoused people in Los Angeles. The focus of the MLK Day action, however, wasn’t sweeps — it was housing. Roughly 66,000 Angelenos live without housing while an additional 495,000 face eviction during a pandemic — staggering numbers, especially when you consider how many hotel rooms and other properties sit empty.
Before departing, Kayo Anderson from LACAN reminded the crowd why this action was chosen for this particular day by honoring Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a few verses of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for far more than the equality of man referenced in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and the organizers of the action wanted the crowd to know Rev Dr. King Jr. was a radical. “The way to end poverty is to end the exploitation of the poor, ensure them a fair share of the government services and the nation’s resources,” the Reverend Doctor said in his 1967 speech “The Three Evils of Society.”
General Dogon from LACAN kicked off the Freedom Ride 4 Housing with an impassioned speech focused around the Los Angeles budget. He compared the budget for law enforcement and encampment sweeps to the Empire State Building, while comparing the budget for public services to “a little mom and pop store.”
“We need to defund the police out of the homeless budget, and we need to reallocate that money to services and housing….this is not our budget, this is they budget. So we can burn they budget,” Dogon said, before literally setting the budget in his hand on fire.
The caravan left LACAN and followed a surface street route to MacArthur Park, Echo Park Lake, and finally Hollywood, all areas of Los Angeles with visibly increasing unhoused populations. It was in Hollywood that the Freedom Ride 4 Housing ended, but not before hearing from those directly impacted.
Theo Henderson, the unhoused man behind the podcast “We The Unhoused,” reminded protestors of the danger of a wolf in sheep’s clothing: “There’s a lot of progressives here in this Democratic state that are just as NIMBY and just as Republican in action when it comes to the unhoused,” he said. He could have been referring to any number of Los Angeles politicians who have miserably failed the unhoused community.
Theo reiterated the importance of remembering both the housed and unhoused are in this fight together. “We’re in the same storm. Some of us have life jackets, some of us do not. Some of us are in the canoe and some of us are basically drowning….When one of us is out on the street all of us is out on the street. Because that could be us next. When one of us gets that eviction notice because we don’t have a job and we’re worried about where that food is, that could be us too!”
Another speaker and resident of the Vine Street encampment, Double O, shared his frustrations regarding the lack of appropriate responses from the government. Even though housing initiatives like A Bridge Home and Project Roomkey exist, they’ve done little to address the root of the issues. “They need to come talk to us to see what our real needs are, so we can progress all as one.”