In the comments section of an article published in a local publication discussing West Hollywood’s growing Homeless population, an enlightened friend and someone I admire greatly, Jimmy Palmieri, responded to readers who were less sympathetic.
Palmieri is a WeHo resident, Human Services Commissioner and Founder of the Tweakers Project, whose mission is to “provide information and alternatives to the addicted person and their families and loved ones through film, print, and the web.”
His responses were a passionate and pragmatic admonishment of a simple fact: “Being Homeless is Not a Crime.” The impact of this plain turn of phrase is truly profound and I asked Jimmy if I could reprint portions of his comments.
Jimmy’s quotes in the article below are excerpts from his originally printed words in the “Comments” section that appeared in that West Hollywood publication.
“Phrases like “We throw money at the homeless, are sound-bites that are totally unfounded and dangerous. As a Human Services Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood, we work extremely hard, for hundreds of hours over many months reading proposals for funding agencies that assist in a problem that is not West Hollywood specific, but nationwide” said Palmieri.
“I’d like to clear one thing up, most housing-challenged folks are not criminals, lazy, or not trying to help themselves. Many of them are mentally ill and is a problem that is no fault of their own. So please don’t respond with the uneducated phrase – Why don’t they help themselves? The mere fact that they are mentally ill answers that and many use substances and alcohol, I am not denying that. Perhaps, it is to numb the pain of the life they are in, perhaps it is a replacement for medication that they don’t have, or perhaps it is simply because they are addicts that haven’t had the opportunity for recovery.” – Jimmy Palmieri
So, what is the actual number of people living on West Hollywood’s streets? According to a respected statistical site, the number was 87 as of April 2016, which is twice the previous year, but about 20% lower than 2005’s high. That is less per capita than Los Angeles and Santa Monica, but higher than Beverly Hills and Culver City.
According to the same site, of the 87, over half of the homeless people were found east of Fairfax Avenue, they were all individuals (no families), and the majority were males over age 25.
If West Hollywood’s homeless population are similar to Downtown, Hollywood, and the Westside communities, according to information provided by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, then:
- 30% to 40% or so are chronically homeless
- 30% to 40% suffer from mental illness
- A quarter have substance-abuse issues
- Up to a quarter have a physical disability
- 10% to 20% are veterans
In September of 2016, the West Hollywood City Council approved a resolution initiated by Councilmembers Lauren Meister and John Heilman to form a council subcommittee focusing on homeless issues, affirming the city’s desire to work with county agencies and as well as concentrate on preventing West Hollywood residents from becoming homeless.
“It’s a complicated issue with no easy solutions,” explained Palmieri – “Have you ever tried to navigate the system of getting into recovery? It is difficult, borderline impossible. That is why I am proud to say that WeHo offers many, many solutions for recovery. We can’t simply grab someone by the hair and drag them to a facility though.”
As a compassionate and progressive city, West Hollywood leads the way towards dignity and tolerance. Those without the comfort of shelter are referred to as “Homeless Community Members” as determined by where they spend most of their nights.
So I echo Jimmy’s sentiments and wish that residents reach out and ask how they might be able to help with this crisis.
“Could you donate to a food pantry, or bring your clothes to a place where they are distributed? Could you wash dishes at a shelter? Could you serve a meal at a shelter and realize that these folks are like you and I but have fallen on hard times?” –Jimmy Palmieri
My intentions with Jimmy’s comments and the photos published are to give insight and understanding into homelessness, which directly affects my family and truly hits close to home. My older brother is one of our “homeless community members” living in the Tent Camp pictured above. He is 57 years old, suffering from mental illness and a victim of addiction.
So with my friend Jimmy Palmieri, I ask you not to judge folks unless you have walked in their shoes.
For more information on Homeless Services in West Hollywood: http://www.weho.org/services/social-services/homeless-services
(This is a revised version of a story previously published under the same title.)