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Now that the Los Angeles City Controller has issued his audit critical of the major player in the "End Homelessness" scam, we should remember that it isn't just L. A. city funds that are supporting the dozens of non-profits that have sprung up in response to the homeless problem. This is now a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds on an ever available supply of folks without a home, apartment or shelter in which to throw their sleeping bags.

Homeless Problem

When there are no homeless, what happens to the non-profits and to their well-paid executives? Not to worry. The homeless problem isn't going away. The more of our money they spend, the larger the number of homeless in L. A. grows.

Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency, the umbrella for about 100 non-profits, and for the contractors, landlords and others milking taxpayers for every penny of the approximately FIVE BILLION DOLLARS in bonds and taxes city and county voters have approved, manages and coordinates about $400 million in homeless funds annually. Does that group really want the homeless to disappear?

The homeless problem easily divides into two issues:

  • finding shelter in any number of forms for those who really want it, and
  • dealing with the Free Spirits, whose lifestyle is such that they reject the discipline and bureaucracy of public housing in any manner.

LAHSA isn't going to solve that second problem. The Free Spirits encamped in the Sepulveda Basin, the L. A. River bed near Frogtown, or their Santa Ana River cousins aren't about to move into "bridge housing" unless it's under a bridge on one of the rivers or an underpass beneath a freeway. These souls relish the freedom that comes from pitching their tents, or crawling under a tarp. They don't understand or care about the esoteric terminology used by LAHSA to describe in academic terms the process of resolving the homeless issue. These folks want to be homeless!

Let LAHSA help the father who can't pay the rent and whose family has been forced onto the street or into their car for shelter, or the single mother whose income is too low to pay rent, no matter how low the rent. LAHSA can also be right at home providing services for the alcoholics or mentally ill on Skid Row, but others living there are more akin to their counterparts living in the riverbed but who like the hustle and bustle of the city rather than the call of nature primeval.

LAHSA doesn't have to worry about working itself out of the job of managing all that taxpayer money. As the annual census of the unhoused reveals, no matter how many LHASA finds shelter for, another homeless person takes his or her place. As the Great Book says, "The homeless you have with you always." Or something like that.

But what about the homeless who won't accept LAHSA's aid, those living in our urban wilderness? That's where our Modest Proposal fits in. Here's the pathway to abolition of those permanent encampments not only in the real wilderness but in parks, vacant lots and the front yard of that empty house on your street.

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LAHSA hasn't accomplished much toward relieving that particular homeless problem. even with that $400 million in homeless money that it oversees each year, your federal, state, county and city taxes, of course. So let's consider something really radical, something that Jonathan Swift might have suggested were he here today. No, we don't have to eat the homeless, nor do we sell them to rich barons. There's another way.

Let's buy one of those Channel Islands and settle the Free Spirit homeless out there. We shouldn't even have to spend a dollar of LAHSA's annual $400 million.

Background: In 1909, Thomas Dixon, who is associated with "Birth of a Nation" and other white supremacist, pro-Klan stories of that era, wrote an anti-socialist novel, "Comrades," in which a wealthy sympathizer bought an island off the coast of Ventura and settled a band of socialists there. In the end, the colony failed. But it provides grist for today's mill.

Let's buy one of those Channel Islands and settle the Free Spirit homeless out there. We shouldn't even have to spend a dollar of LAHSA's annual $400 million. As in the novel, entice some wealthy leftist to put up the purchase money. If George Soros can spend millions promoting migrant caravans from Central America to the U. S., he ought to be willing to help our own dispossessed. Surely a hundred million ought to be enough to get the feds to relinquish their sole possession of San Miguel Island, which is now largely an uninhabited national park.

Clean out the nests of settlers in Sepulveda Basin. Move 'em out of the L.A. riverbed. Clean up their mess along the Santa Ana River. If they want to live in the wild, so be it, but not in OUR wilds.

How will they survive on San Miguel? Fishing is good there. How about abalone and clams? They can grow vegetables, and raise chickens and rabbits.

Some of the residents will probably receive pensions or welfare checks, with which they can buy supplies from the mainland. The colony will need a post office, which will give employment to those who want it, and the county will have to establish a minor medical clinic as well. But keep civilization to a minimum! That's what these folks have been espousing by living in the thickets along our rivers.

That ought to appeal to this group of homeless. It wouldn't be a solution for those with alcoholic or drug addiction, or to those with other physical ailments. They would still need LAHSA.

The panhandling will decrease, as will burglary and robbery caused by the Free Spirits. Trails through the riverbed will be safe for your kids to walk once more. And if it rains again, we won't have to risk the lives of first responders to get those encamped on flood-prone terrain in Frog town to move.

This is surely the modern equivalent of Swift's "Modest Proposal." But unlike his satirical essay on eating poor Irish children, some will see this idea as one that really is a possibility.

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Ralph E. Shaffer

Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona. reshaffer@cpp.edu