Skid Row

The homeless population in Los Angeles has risen dramatically in the past year, it is growing in NYC too.  In fact, the homeless population has risen across the country.  Based on this particular Administrations disdain for their fellow man, it will get worse before it gets better.

We were downtown about a month ago and drove through Skid Row.  Skid Row is an area in downtown Los Angeles that is filled with homeless people living in tents on the streets.  I was shocked by how much it has grown since I was there a year ago.  At a glance, it appears that most of the people living there have mental illness issues and some serious drug problems.  It is heartbreaking to see this.  How can a wealthy society ignore this issue?

One thing is certain, is that the attempts to solve this issue aren’t working.  Throwing money at social services is not working.  There isn’t enough housing and there isn’t a big enough net to help these people even if you put a roof over their head.  They need to get to a place where they actually want a roof.  Granted, not everyone wants a roof and who are we to dictate that people with mental issues need to be on drugs to help regulate their brains but I have to believe that most people who get to sound mind and body want to feel safe, have a bed to sleep in, want to be connected to some community and want to get up every day with a purpose to feel good about themselves.  How do we make that happen for those in need?

As we become a more automated world, and a bigger divide between those who have and have-not, our country is going to have to really think about new ways to help those in need.  Where can we build communities that are clean, safe and have deep social programs to help families or mentally challenged people.  The low-income housing of the past is not the answer.  Mental hospitals are not the answer.

Is it time to build new cities in sparse areas with services from education to jobs that can be there or outsourced to these areas from other places.  Medical facilities that are pro-active vs reactive.  There are economic benefits to helping the homeless if done properly and reconceived from the past.

Who in the start-up community is thinking about this as a profit opportunity vs another decade of poor Government under-capitalized band-aids for the homeless population?  There just has to be a better way.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I see it more in my face in LA–SM and Venice especially–as the populations are it appears ‘protected’ in some ways.There are some VCs focusing on cities with some low cost housing initiatives but that will not solve this issue morphing into a crisis.On this one count me concerned but clueless on what to do.

  2. lisa hickey

    I wish I knew the answer to this. I agree the solutions need to be fundamentally different. Here are some thoughtstarters:1) I really like the idea of re-imagining cities. What if a philanthropist or a group of invested started one from scratch. What would we do differently? What I’d do….Lots of vertical farms gardens throughout the city so that less food is shipped in. Green, solar energy everywhere. Walking paths, then bike paths expanding out from the center. No cars in the middle. But also a hub for technology innovation. Coffeeshops that have not just WiFi but teach you how to code. Maybe you strive for a certain percentage of businesses that give part time work + training. You build schools and a new form of university that is not just 4 years, but encourage learning different marketable skills at different times. Learning + tangible skills. Many homeless people simply had a series of bad breaks and got left behind. How can we prevent that “left behind” from happening? By continuing to offer people chances to bounce back from setbacks. Build that into the cities of the future.2) Re-imagining our economy. Living wages, minimum wages. Incentives for corporations to actually create jobs. Maybe that is the only way they can get tax breaks—through job creation. Maybe there is a new form of insurance. Crisis insurance. Get people through bad breaks. Get them through it. Whether it’s a flood or a shooting or a job loss. Crisis insurance can help. Just think about how if you ever got your car totaled or a house fire or a major medical problem. It would have been a crisis were it not for insurance. So lets “unbucket” insurance and realize everyone goes through at some point. Let’s plan for it.3) Re-imagine the way we think about mental illness. It’s not shameful to get help. Men, especially, need to get help earlier. Everyone should be taught emotional intelligence, relationship building, social problem solving. Understand the spectrum better. Give people warning signs the same way we do for cancer.I know. Totally pie in the sky. But we’ve got to solve these problems systemically. (And sorry so long. It’s a complex problem.)

    1. Gotham Gal

      I agree with all your ideas. A total redo.

      1. lisa hickey

        Thanks. It will take vision, power and money. And the will to solve these problems. I don’t think problems like homelessness can be solved insolation. They all need to be solved. But if that happens—I think the results will be even beyond what we can now imagine.

  3. Douglas Smith Land

    Interested in your idea to create (or build up) cities in less dense areas. I personally am waiting (with a healthy amount of skepticism) to see how models for new neighborhoods like Sidewalk Toronto are able to achieve affordability – or not – by leveraging new technologies. Closer to home, with De Blasio about to deploy +$1B to house NYC’s homeless in hotels over the next three years (clearly a band-aid for an urgent crisis), you have to wonder how that $ could more strategically be used to capitalize new development at the regional level in places with lower land values. The question I keep coming back to: how can we sufficiently expand housing for the homeless in gateway markets like SF, NY, LA without relocating them to underdeveloped areas beyond the core, displacing them from the places they know and essentially making them refugees? If relocation is the only way in this dire situation, cities must think about how they will connect housing for the homeless to educational resources and good jobs via improved regional transit infrastructure (another area requiring greater investment).

    1. Gotham Gal

      Love seeing your name pop-up here. In the 80’s the city put money behind this and put people in hotels. It was an absolute disaster. Not surprised to see DeBlasio doing something from the past that didn’t work in the first place. Why history has to keep repeating itself here is beyond me. We need someone with the power to reimagine a solution.

  4. Pranay Srinivasan

    What if the cities built communities and wealthy citizens “adopted a family” – find them jobs, pay their rent for a year + rehab and get them into programs run by private cos to get them skils + employment and make it so the annual cost is < $40k per family?

    1. Pranay Srinivasan

      Oh and you do it in collab with non profits and make it a registry so its almost like a peer to peer thing with the city only offering the housing but getting paid rent for the housing.

    2. Gotham Gal

      Won’t ever happen.

      1. Pranay Srinivasan

        Maybe we should build this and find a city willing to re-invigorate themselves without “gentrifying” their needy.

        1. Pranay Srinivasan

          “Angel Investing” in the homeless and needy.

    3. jason wright

      a particular (and pretty shitty) version of capitalism has created this issue. the system needs to be re engineered. the idea that rich people adopt poor and homeless people is repugnant. it is decadent. wealth needs to be redistributed across society. people need empowering. they don’t need to be adopted. they need a fair slice of the cake.high net worth individuals driving through homeless cities smacks of voyeurism. get planning permission, buy a warehouse, put some beds in it, and have counsellors available to assist these people. shocking state of affairs.

  5. mplsvbhvr

    Found this in the comments section of Albert’s blog a little bit ago in a post dealing with income disparity and imaginative how cities are built… can’t find the comment again now so not sure who to credit but it’s an interesting take on the some of the issues from this post.

    1. Gotham Gal

      There are a bunch of these Homes out there and more