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Economic Refugees aka 'The Homeless Problem'

Beacon St. San Pedro // Photo by Brenda López

I find it curious that on the very night that the last Los Angeles City Council District 15 homeless working group held its recent meeting in which they were discussing a possible homeless campsite on Lots E and F on Port of Los Angeles property, both the City and the Port of Long Beach opened their arms and doors to house several thousand refugees from another country. This was done with a unanimous vote of its city council and at the request of President Joe Biden’s Homeland Security agency.

It seems like a reasonable act of compassion in contrast to the previous president’s disdain and penchant for incarcerating children at our borders. There’s a natural compassion (at least from some) for innocent children fleeing from the conflicts and economics of their home country; but the same cannot be said for our own economic refugees, also known as “the homeless.”

Here’s my point: the young children at our border and our homeless sleeping on our streets are equally “economic refugees.” Regardless of what other personal issues they may suffer from, their 'homeless condition' is driven ultimately by poverty. They are the most desperately poor among us.

With the right planning erecting our own homeless encampments would be cost-effective and provide shelter and services for those who need it.

And in America, it’s a crime to be poor.

If you are a wealthy immigrant, you can come in the front door relatively easily with a visa. But, if you are a poor immigrant unable to acquire a visa, then you are deemed “illegal” should you make it into the country. It’s the same with our homeless neighbors but with an added layer of disdain, as they are also seen as “lazy” and/or unwilling to work.

In fact, we make it harder on our own people who are poor than we do on most immigrants who come here looking for work. Why?

Because we need cheap labor.

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This condition of extreme poverty currently threatens many of my neighbors who desperately cling to the American Dream and may just be a paycheck or two away from this homeless reality themselves.

Where there’s a refugee crisis, the United Nations or other humanitarian organizations would set up what are commonly called refugee camps. Refugees would be provided tents, sanitation, food and water, and yes, basic services.

Then, they are placed in homes, tiny or large, and either relocated to permanent or semi-permanent locations, or taken to longer term care facilities. This is considered the most efficient way to sort out and process groups of people in a humane, compassionate way and is very similar to what is now being done at the Long Beach Convention Center for refugee children.

Even with all the efforts over the past several years, Los Angeles simply does not have enough permanent low income apartments, shelter beds, tiny homes or even safe parking lots to handle the homeless problem as it stands, or what I fear will come after the pandemic. 

From the research that is generally available, we already that some 15% of all homeless refugees are just flat-out resistant to aid. And, whatever the multitude of reasons, we must accept that as a reality — theirs, not ours.

It is neither our place to judge nor is it legally acceptable to force people off the streets, but we can offer them something. It is both the humane and economically conservative path forward at this point. Especially when you realize that when the city does one of its “clean sweeps” it costs taxpayers something like $35,000, and does little to build trust with our economic refugees.

The point being that our leaders are missing the obvious solution before them. Communal living solutions, either temporary or fixed, need to seriously be considered as alternatives to both the nuclear family and self-sustaining individual models now being offered. We’ve seen examples of this before at The Dome Village in Los Angeles

Locations could be created cheaply and on unused public property. Most importantly it's a solution that can be utilized right now rather than later. With the right planning, they can accommodate hundreds at a time rather than a few dozen. This also meets people where they are, rather than where we think they “should” be and addresses their basic human condition without judgment, and provides a solution that does not negatively impact either home owners or businesses. 


We don't have to force our homeless neighbors into a lifestyle they do not want to live, but we can create a space for them to live their lives they way they want. And for those who do want to return to the majority of society, they will be in a safe place to rebuild their lives and get back on their feet. It's a win-win.

James Preston Allen
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