Zachary Antoyan is a political science senior and Mustang News liberal columnist. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Zachary Antoyan

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Zachary Antoyan is a political science senior and Mustang News liberal columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.

Last week, I said I would talk about big oil. But to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how the economy works so I don’t say anything dumb in print.

It was like this black hole — when I started reading about the economy and the theory behind it, it sucked me in and now I have no idea where I am or what I’m doing. What is an economy? Seriously though, if you know what the hell it is, email me. I don’t get this. So we’re working on that.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the thing you’ve heard about but don’t really know what it is: Skid Row. (Unless you’re from L.A., in which case you probably know.)

In a recent poll of people sitting around me at the library, six of eight said they have heard of Skid Row, but couldn’t say exactly what it was. One of eight said that they knew what it was. And one of eight asked if it was an ass-disease. So we’ll start by describing this thing for those seven people.  

Skid Row is the name of a district in Los Angeles, an area that spans about 50 city blocks and supports a population of approximately 18,000 people with an estimated homeless population of more than 1,000.

Skid Row is synonymous with squalor: thousands of people living on the streets, carrying with them only the things they can hold or push in carts, sleeping under tarps and on top of pavement, existing in any way possible under the conditions of homelessness. 

Truthfully, I cannot describe it to you. I haven’t been there, and any words I could use to explain it from what I have read would not do the horrible situation justice.

Chances are, you live in San Luis Obispo, where the realities of other parts of this world are blurred by the nice weather, beautiful landscape and a standard of living unknown to billions of others. 

Yet homelessness exists here in San Luis Obispo, just as it does in hundreds of other cities. And we stand to learn much from the examples other cities set for dealing with the phenomenon of homelessness.

These examples tell us what has worked and what hasn’t, and it would serve us well to take note of these endeavors. Skid Row exists as a prime example for this examination. 

Back in 1975, the city of Los Angeles adopted a “Policy of Containment” which was, despite its name, designed to help the homeless existing in Skid Row and not to quarantine them as the name alludes. It tried to consolidate all of the homeless services into one location, allowing the population of homeless who existed there to have easy access to much needed health and rehab services. What it did instead is bring more homeless to Skid Row seeking those services. 

The influx of homeless to the area further deteriorated it, and made improvements difficult. Indeed, Skid Row became known for its concentration of homeless, and in 2005, it was discovered that both hospitals and police departments were dumping the homeless off in Skid Row neighborhoods. If it was found that a person could not afford treatment or was picked up by police and had no place of residence, Skid Row was their next stop. 

The same mentality that justifies dumping the homeless in this manner somehow also finds a way to condemn being homeless in the first place. Across the nation, and in Skid Row, police departments and cities have attempted to “fix” homelessness by outlawing it and restricting the services that try to help them.

Often these laws criminalize sleeping on the street, allow police to take the belongings of the homeless or even go so far as to prevent food kitchens and homeless programs from existing in parts of the city or within a certain distance from each other

These ordinances see the homeless as a problem and seek to “fix” homelessness by moving it somewhere else, sometimes forcibly. They do nothing to actually reduce homelessness. That’s like Patrick yelling, “Let’s take Bikini Bottom, and PUSH IT somewhere else!” Instead now we’re taking people and pushing them out of cities, leaving them to their own devices. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Cities and programs need to take an alternate approach by seeing homelessness as an unfortunate circumstance, the causes of which range from drug abuse to job loss, debt or even escape from domestic abuse. Programs that focus on helping people with these issues will see homeless rates drop.

Permanent supportive housing has been shown to achieve this goal, bringing not only services but homes to those who otherwise would go without it, at rates they can afford. It’s not just containment, as the 1975 ordinance attempted, but support. And this support goes directly to those in need. 

So while San Luis Obispo is a far cry from Skid Row, its constructive to recognize the actions that fix problems, and the actions that mask the symptoms of deeper issues. 

This is Zachary Antoyan, wondering why flashsteve doesn’t comment on his columns anymore. I miss that dude(or dudette). Have a fantastic week, everyone.

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1 Comment

  1. OK, Zachary, I’ll take the bait. It is impossible to meaningfully discuss this problem without getting into a big discourse about cause/effect, individual responsibility, youth disaffection, lack of money, mental illness, abuse of drugs/alcohol, etc., . Here’s my take on the issue. You notice, I never use the usual name that is given to it; I refuse to. Not having a permanent home is a symptom of underlying issues, not the issue itself, so PLEASE stop saying defining the issue by where people live…thank you. All of the above are causes of this ‘problem’. My simplistic approach is this: those who are incapable of creating a home for themselves should be given ‘services’ such as mental health intervention, substance abuse counseling and be given a place to live. They are not given a choice: they must accept these services and home. The rest (disaffected youth, unemployed, on the street by choice, etc.), who are capable of creating a home for themselves, but have made bad choices, must be told ‘you cannot live rough, you must take responsiblity for yourself, you must re-unite with your family, you must accept a minimum-wage job, you must shave and bathe, etc.’, but you cannot live rough or you will go to jail. I actually don’t think that we will deal with this issue quickly, but we must intervene immediately with young people who are living rough. They cannot be allowed to do this; they will ‘grow up’ to be long term street people, with no real hope of a meaningful life. PS I am a dude, but since I am old enough to be your grandfather, just call me ‘sir’.

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