My partner and I are tent dwellers in Hollyweird California. My name is Hal, and I’m just a mess of a man. I’m disabled from birth by a genetic condition, autistic, asthmatic, pack a day smoker, a wheelchair user, transgender, and have CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). I am also a full time activist, advocate, artist, field medic, and ametuer piano player who loves to sing. My partner is Jeremy, aka J. He’s got a 20-year-old untreated traumatic brain injury, suffers from migraines and memory loss, acid reflux, asthma, heel spurs, and smokes a pack a day. He’s also my caregiver, as I’m a fall risk. He plays the guitar and sings like an old pro, but says he’s nothing special. We are people, just like you. And we are the people who sweeps and anti-unhoused legislation harm.
We’ve been unhoused in Los Angeles County for over two years now. We have been criminalized, brutalized, victimized, and dehumanized by cops, politicians, and housed neighbors. We’ve been denied help based on age, gender and sexuality, and disability. We’ve been attacked by people under the influence of drugs, by security guards, and by cops. We’ve endured forced exposure to harmful substances while in shelters (second hand meth smoke in the bunk areas is common), while simultaneously being denied access to the medical cannabis we were prescribed. Our car was illegally towed, with many of our belongings in it, with no tickets or contact. We have been denied reasonable accommodations as per the ADA by LAPD, LASAN, PATH Bridge shelters, and NIMBYs.
I don’t even want to think about what it would mean to have our own place again. Not in a bad way. Just in the “I don’t want to get my hopes up just to be dashed on the rocks of bureaucracy” again way. I’ve had this particular carrot dangled before me several times, only to be let down and trampled underneath the crushing weight of yet more need to PROVE MY WORTHINESS OF A HOME OF MY OWN. It’s already traumatic to be unhoused. To make me prove my worthiness of a home is retraumatizing and dehumanizing. Enough about us; let’s get to the heart of the matter.
The definition of public is paid for by taxpayers. Unhoused people still pay taxes with every cent they spend, in general relief funds, disability benefits, and cash donations we receive. That makes PUBLIC SPACES OURS TOO! You seem to have forgotten this truth.
Proposals like 41.18, the recent attempt at a “sit/lie ban,” for example, are based on the idea that unhoused people deserve criminalization if we “refuse services.” But this is based on a completely inaccurate understanding of what “services” are actually available to us. There are less than 10k shelter beds for 60k+ unhoused people in LA County. Our city is criminalizing a fallacy. “We offered you a thing that doesn’t exist, so we’re gonna arrest you for refusing it.” Make it make sense.
The entire system for helping the unhoused isn’t designed to help us, anyway. It’s designed to frustrate us into going anywhere else. You cycle through endless “shelters,” each with their own impossible stacks of paperwork, HIPAA violations requiring us to prove our disabilities, absolute failure at ADA-compliance, attempts to separate families, and a never-ending turnover rate for case managers which means that if you find someone helpful to oversee your case, they likely won’t be there long enough to actually help you anyway. I’ve had encounters with case supervisors that were so frustrating and demoralizing they’ve led me to breakdowns and suicidal ideation. And this cycle is as unchanging as the day is long. And it doesn’t work. So when council members talk about how if we “refuse services” we deserve to be arrested, these are the services they’re talking about.
Another way they try to criminalize us is by saying that our existence poses an ADA risk. But this kind of legislation hurts disabled people, people like me, most. I’m a full-time wheelchair user, and as such, I personally don’t want to deal with the problems that come with having an unhygienic camp so I keep my camp clean. Also, my camp always had plenty of room for a wheelchair BECAUSE I USE A MANUAL WHEELCHAIR EVERY SINGLE DAY. So the unspoken part of this justification is that our councilmembers don’t think of unhoused disabled people like me as people. This ordinance definitely tramples upon UNHOUSED ADA RIGHTS, WHILE APPEARING TO PROTECT THE HOUSED ADA RIGHTS? Again, please, make it make sense.
To see city council move with such agency and urgency — as they attempted to do with 41.18 — to criminalize, brutalize, traumatize, and dehumanize those of us who are unhoused, we who they consider to be beneath you, shows just how sadistic and cruel the predator class is. Never has such urgency been exercised by our council in pursuit of anything that would actually help those of us who are suffering the consequences of a housing crisis we had no hand in making. This predation on the most vulnerable among us, myself included, has to end.
My partner and I have been living inside hotels (ISH — hotels of some sort, paid for by either grassroots orgs, PRK, or other agencies) since August 26th, 2020. As of this writing, we have approximately two weeks to secure a lease on a place, or we’ll end up back outside on the street due to lack of agency funding. If we go back outside, it’s back to a tent on the sidewalk in Hollyweird. It’s a 7-feet-wide-by-16-feet long (slightly larger than an average jail cell), 8-man tent. Inside will be everything we own. I have a beat up old mattress to sleep on, and J has two tri-fold sleeping mats. Aside from that, we got creative for toilet facilities, since most public restrooms are closed due to COVID, and bought a potty chair with trash bags for liners, which then go into a bucket (sound familiar, Buscaino?). We have a couple suitcases of clothes, hygiene supplies, a cooler, a cart, a dolley, whatever food we have, my wheelchair, and our sleeping bags.
Every time this kind of legislation passes, people like me and my partner face even more unnecessary cruelty than we already do. We are forced to move well outside reasonable range for someone like me, from our shower facilities (YMCA), from our healthcare epicenter (LALGBT), mail (CBS), and countless other resources in Hollyweird that we depend on, because it would become a criminal act to EXIST AS AN UNHOUSED INDIVIDUAL within its Special Enforcement Zone. All because the rich don’t want to be confronted with the consequences of their greed, and because they’re confused about the definition of public. And it’s systemic: from the NIMBYs to the Lawmakers. Every cop, every sanitation worker, every councilmember, every low-level politician who sits silently, and every NIMBY who thinks of We The Unhoused as beneath them, contributes to the circumstances of people like me. People who are just trying to exist.
If you enjoyed this piece, support Hal with a tip: venmo.com/MrSelfmade1312
Thanks to readers like you, Knock LA is able to keep you informed on local politics and uplift marginalized voices in Los Angeles. Join us in fighting the good fight and click here to support Knock LA.