Sweeps Leave Homeless People Including New Mother with Nothing Once Again

Be Kind to the Unhoused Woman Pushing an Empty Baby Carriage

I’m Ruth, and I’m unhoused. I want to talk to you about how Neighborhood Councils interact with unhoused people and how they could interact with us – or how I wish they would. 

There was an LAMC 41.18 motion, item #10, on the agenda for Studio City Neighborhood Council Wednesday, March 16. This will serve as the setting of a story I want to tell you about my unhoused neighbor.

As an unhoused person living in public in LA, I must testify for people like “Mary” (a pseudonym I will call her to protect her privacy).

You may have seen her. She’s been pushing an empty baby carriage around our neighborhood for two weeks.

Not even a month ago, “Mary” was about ten months pregnant, living in a homeless encampment, like I do. Her boyfriend actually got them a housing voucher after months of trying. They thought the hard times were almost over.

Then, they couldn’t find any places that would accept them. They thought they’d be leaving their encampment behind, on their own, for someplace better, like their own apartment. 

But, a few housed neighbors were fixated on getting this encampment swept, despite their Councilwoman’s firm opposition to the cruel practice. She finally caved, and the sweep was coming up quickly.

It was arriving almost as fast as their baby.

Mary’s water broke when she was home alone at their encampment. She got on a bus and went to the hospital, as you do when you’re overdue. Her boyfriend returned and panicked when she wasn’t home.

A woman I met through Neighborhood Council – the only other person who actually has lived experience because of living in her car – was kind enough to drive him to the hospital to be with Mary. 

She had been checking on Mary more frequently as her due date approached. They quickly put it together that Mary left the encampment in a hurry. They did the same, knowing it may not be there anymore when they returned. 

You would think this type of conflict would warrant a scheduling change, right? 

Not even for Women’s Day. CARE/CARE+ teams can’t “care” any less. They do things when they want to. It took years for a FOIA activist @dotkohlhaas to even get the Sanitation Department to release their daily encampment sweep schedules via CPRA, and they are often inaccurate. @shoton35mm has taken over releasing them daily 

Unfortunately, Mary tested positive for COVID while in the hospital. When her boyfriend got there, he could not be with her or their baby. It was gut-wrenching.

This also made them ineligible for even the 8’x8′ double-occupancy “tiny houses” that were supposedly offered to people living in encampments scheduled for “resolution” … an offer that only became available to them because of the impending sweep. It was not available to other unhoused people. It was not available to these same people before. And it was not something that they could seek voluntarily or at another time. They just had to wait while also moving and hope they didn’t miss the promised offer when and IF it came around.

Even without the COVID conflict, I’m not sure the baby was invited to live in the Tiny House Village with them. They were so close to being a little housed family in a stable, affordable apartment or tiny house. Yet, they kept getting rejected by landlords, buildings, from the hospital, from interim tiny housing, and now, from their own encampment – which is PUBLIC SPACE.

How did that get twisted into a narrative that they were rejecting offers of housing? Probably by not talking TO MARY about Mary’s situation.

When Mary was released from the hospital with COVID and without her baby, she returned to the place that she made into a home with her boyfriend during the late stages of her pregnancy. There was no evidence that they had ever existed there.

It was swept clean. Everyone was gone. Supposedly they were all housed now. Mary knew better than to believe everyone talking FOR her old roommates, though. She barely troubles herself with the narrative that she resists services because she’s too busy seeking housing after months of securing a voucher. Mary doesn’t need services. All she needs is a landlord. At least that used to be all they needed, like three weeks ago.

Now she didn’t have clothes, a blanket, or an umbrella.

It was going to rain, her home was gone, her baby was gone. Mary’s meager possessions would never be seen again. Her boyfriend and his worthless Housing Voucher – Charlie Buckets’ Golden Ticket – which is supposed to afford them an apartment, the equivalent of winning the lottery for the expecting couple, they were nowhere to be found.

“You get nothing.”…just like Charlie Buckets.

Mary sought refuge from the rain under a bridge where I nearly perished in a fire in 2018.

The woman that I know from Neighborhood Council found Mary’s boyfriend, who was beside himself, distraught. Neither one of them could find Mary. I suggested the bridge, a place I still consider returning to when it rains. Sure enough, she was there.

And now they are pushing a stroller, walking aimlessly like they are lost, too afraid to attach to any place, too untrusting to allow themselves to experience any more loss.

I’m still not sure they were ever even offered any services, or that they would reject them if an offer was made. You wouldn’t know that if you listened to all the people talking for them, about them. You would think that they got housed and lived happily ever after. The End.

Because that makes it feel like stealing from the poor is good for them. It’s still about as bad as clubbing baby seals, though. It also perpetuates the narrative that stealing from the poor is okay, as long as you ask them a riddle and they get the answer wrong.

This isn’t Monty Python.

This isn’t Robin Hood. 

It is Robbing the Poor, with some mental gymnastics and cute acronyms added to make it sound slightly less – icky.

With 1,081 vacant homes, FIVE PER UNHOUSED PERSON, in our ZIP code alone, why do I still have no solution for the NEXT Mary. It’s just like the many Marys before her. One “Mary” delivered her son under a different bridge nearby.

Another “Mary,” who lived opposite me under our bridge, delivered her child in a hospital, too early for it to be viable. She cried for months, then she left town, and the father died of sepsis last May.

And yet another “Mary.” The LAPD supposedly spotted her near our bridge. They thought I would tell them where they could find her. I told them the truth. I had not met her, but if I should, I would advise her to go to the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) because it’s a SAFE PLACE (with a No Police policy) that is supposed to be equipped to deal with people in her situation. 

The real truth is that no one is equipped to deal with Mary’s situation. When I was getting services from DWC, I witnessed a few women go through the agony – that 5,000 expecting mothers in LA do EVERY YEAR – of displacement while pregnant. The 5,000 resulting babies born to unhoused people will nearly all get housed, at some point, before age 18. Then, the frequency of homeless people by age spikes because of “The System” that leaves many to their own devices once they turn 18. 

One-in-five adults who enter Permanent Supportive Housing was an unhoused child, according to LensCo. A study by UCLA found 68,000 unhoused LAUSD K12 students, a population that does not overlap with the annual LAHSA PIT number, which is also 68,000. If you’re keeping track, that means LA has around 140,000 people who have been identified as homeless through manual counting.

The question is: Why does a bridge – a ramp for a highway, for cars – represent more safety to displaced women than any of the offerings of a nearly billion-dollar system to provide for people who lack housing??

What are our Department of Transportation, CalTrans, and our deceptively-named CARE/CARE+ team doing? They destroy the blankets that Mary laid down as the only soft place in her world as she was welcoming and mourning the loss of what had been her world for all of the nine months prior.

Why is the only infrastructure that Mary has to keep her dry while she recovers from the trauma of giving birth with COVID while displaced, all alone, something that serves a purpose as far removed from “human habitation” as a FREEWAY?

Our neighbors DEMANDED from our Councilwoman that Mary’s humble home be abated. They literally held Neighborhood Council Sub-Committee meetings about it within the past month. I was the only unhoused person in these meetings, and I wasn’t exactly invited or wanted there.

Why didn’t they make an Ad Hoc Committee dedicated to finding a landlord who would accept the voucher Mary’s boyfriend had a few weeks ago when that was “all” they needed from us, their neighbors?

Why do I still have nothing to tell the next Mary or the next??

With over 1,600 unhoused people dying in LA last year, we are still creating homeless people far faster than we are losing them. Homeless adults die in their 40s, 35 years sooner than their housed counterparts. Their autopsies would show the worn-out, tired hearts of people twice their age if the Coroner bothered to perform autopsies on people who were found deceased in tents and near freeways – like my friend.

He, with his wife, survived COVID in the ICU just to make her into a widow a few weeks later. He was 57, a decade older than the average unhoused person in LA’s expected lifespan, but still “too young” to be considered for Project Roomkey. 

This couple had been unhoused in our neighborhood together for decades. But when he was found under CAMPO de Cahuenga, called him “The Body of a Transient.”

I was humiliated FOR them about this when my sympathetic housed friend sent me crucifixion imagery captioned “Body of a Transient” – Damn.

His wife was so distraught that she got kicked out of Project Roomkey, which she ended up getting “lucky enough” to secure, after all. If only it had been just a little bit sooner.

She’s still homeless around here. My significant other helped her carry her groceries “home” to a park about a month ago after she was evicted from a bridge.

The fact that Mary’s Neighborhood Councils are continuing to choose to use its energy, resources and people power to take away one of the few things that “Mary” still has – her Constitutional right to public space – despite the Councilwoman already taking a firm, clear opposition to LAMC 41.18 … It makes me want better people. Be better. Thank you.

If you have referrals of landlords or vacancies that accept any voucher or subsidy, please email them to your:

  • neighborhood council
  • tenants Union
  • local outreach
  • drop-in organizations
  • councilperson

If you hear your neighbors plotting to displace unhoused people, please stick up for us. Sweeps are cruel. They kill us. Sweeps are a sixth grader stealing lunch from a kindergartener. They are a sneaker to an ant mound. Sweeps are not whimsical, dancing brooms synchronized to Disney music. Sweeps are the City “reclaiming” public spaces from the public, repeatedly.

Oppose LAMC 41.18, which has already been deemed unconstitutional by a higher court. Ask LAHSA why they silently support LAMC 41.18 when it undoes all of their outreach teams’ hard work doing CES intakes with people.

Demand that meetings about homeless people actually include unhoused people so that we can speak for ourselves. Don’t use us as tokens. Don’t consume media about homelessness by housed people, for housed people. That makes sense, right?

Make space for us in spaces that seek to speak for us. As they say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

Finally, if you see a woman or couple pushing an empty baby carriage, please be remarkably kind neighbors to them. Thank you.

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