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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Homeless Court: LA


Los Angeles is the global model for the American lifestyle. Our culture is exported from L.A., where people see clean streets, beautiful houses, and a vibrant nightlife. But we have a secret. Los Angeles is also home to the largest concentrated homeless population in the United States. Skid Row, 50 square blocks of downtown, is where we herd those who are most in need. It is here that they find themselves victims of gang violence, drug wars, and even prostitution. However, there is a less noticeable but extremely important problem plaguing the homeless: criminalization.

Living on the streets is a life more challenging than most of us will ever know. It is a daily struggle for survival and human connection that sometimes necessitates breaking laws for good reasons. For example, a large percentage of L.A.’s homeless have been issued tickets for jaywalking, riding the metro with no fare, and loitering. With a criminal record it is difficult to return to society and gain employment and housing. Is it beneficial for Los Angeles to criminalize a group of people who are already living on the fringe of society?

The Los Angeles Homeless Court doesn’t think so. Their mission is to hold monthly court sessions in areas like Skid Row were minor charges can be dismissed in exchange for commitments to rehabilitation and job training programs. The concept is simple: allow the homeless an opportunity to reenter society as self-sufficient citizens. Employers often pass over applications that show any sort of criminal record, even if the crime was as minor as jaywalking. At a time when unemployment is as high as it has been in decades, checking that box could mean missing out on a job.

So do we want to keep the homeless homeless, or do we want to provide every avenue for self-improvement we can? On a technical level, Homeless Court helps get people off the street, but there is more to this than just landing a job. Orlando Ward now works at Midnight Mission, but he used to be homeless. Reflecting on his charges, Ward says, “It's the emotional side. The court is recognizing that I have changed. I have overcome this. It does an awful lot for your self-esteem.”

Treating the homeless with a sense of humanity needs to be the foundation of all rehabilitation measures. Blaming and judging will get us nowhere because we need the homeless to believe they are valuable, and not a detriment to society. One simple way to do this is to see them as people, not as criminals. Next time you meet someone down on their luck, don’t be afraid to treat them like a human being.

Sean McEvoy

2 Comments:

Anonymous Kelsey Laubscher said...

Sean,
I love to read your blogs in general, but the pieces that expose the tragedy that is Skid Row really speak to me. I, myself, am very invested in the issue of homelessness, especially in terms of the paradoxical nature of rehabilitation. I really respect your stance on the situation and your propositions for improvement.

March 17, 2011 at 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Alyssa Silva said...

This is a great article. It is imperative that people know that past the city lights we have a huge issue in Los Angeles which is homelessness. Homelessness does not mean that those individuals who are in these positions are relinquishing their right to be treated humanely. They are just like you and I, they deserve respect and deserve opportunities that could better their lives.

March 18, 2011 at 11:47 PM  

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