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Statement on the Passing of Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison in 2008. She was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel in Literature. Damon Winter/The New York Times

“Today we lost a literary giant, cultural icon, and hero to so many. Toni Morrison, whose literary career started by carving out a little time in the evenings to write after her two sons went to sleep, refused to be defined by establishment. And in life and in prose this worldview shone incandescently bright.  She wrote her books from a vital, underrepresented perspective that placed African Americans – particularly women – at the heart of her writing at a time when they were largely relegated to the margins both in literature and in life. She was the right voice during a difficult time that amplified our collective desires; that understood the way language could operate as an uplifting force; that as she wrote in Beloved said “you are your best thing”; and that claimed a space for us all whether we thought we needed it or not. I will greatly miss Ms. Morrison and send my condolences to the Morrison family, but I know today as we mourn her loss, in so many ways in so many hearts and minds and spirits her ethos will continue to live on.”

Los Angeles Times: Right to Housing

Would forcing homeless people to move inside and off the streets work?


Homeless client Janet Kingsbury enjoys a shelter bed. Photo by Michael Owen Baker / County Of Los Angeles

Steve Saad, who has camped out in the Sepulveda Basin for eight years, had to find a new place to sleep last week after fire raged through his campsite. I asked if he’d prefer living in a shelter to being homeless, if a bed were available, and he said no. Some of those places have too many rules about coming and going, he said, and some of them separate couples.

In downtown Los Angeles, a man who lives in a tent pitched near the 101 Freeway agreed with that assessment. There was no way he’d move into a shelter, said the man, who identified himself only as Harvey. They’re full of disease, and he feels safer in a tent, he said.

At Echo Park Lake, military veteran Shane Isaacson said it was an interesting idea, but he would rather continue living in his Jeep with his dog, Bear, than move into a shelter.

Only one homeless person I talked to in my informal survey, David Parcher, who also lives in the park, saw it differently. Yes, he said, he’d take the shelter bed, even though he understood why so many other homeless people might not.

“Some of us don’t always do what’s in our own best interest,” Parcher said.

I was asking the question because new ideas are not abundant in the world of homelessness policy, but two California politicians have come up with something that’s a little different and a lot controversial.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, both involved in homeless issues for years, have proposed a new approach, in which the state would establish a right to shelter and make sure there’s a bed for every homeless person now camped on streets, riverbeds and parks.

This is a change in direction because for several years, the focus has been on building permanent supportive housing rather than temporary shelter. But the more radical part of the proposal is this:

Once beds were available, homeless people would be forced to move inside.

“The public policy of this state must be that people live indoors,” said Steinberg, who noted that the number of deaths among the homeless is rising — more than 900 last year in Los Angeles County alone. If we can get more people inside, he said, it would be much easier to help people get well and find long-term solutions to their problems.

“Imagine what our communities would look and feel like if people had both a right to come inside and an obligation to come inside,” Steinberg said. “It’s common sense. You’d enforce it by telling people they can’t camp, and removing the campsite, and escorting people indoors.”

The idea is conceptual at the moment, with no details on how to pay for the shelters or how to make people come inside if they don’t want to. But it comes out of a frustration that, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring homelessness numbers down, they’re going up statewide.

“You just happen to be talking to two guys who have lifted heavily on homelessness,” said Ridley-Thomas, noting that he pushed for the homeless services made possible under L.A. County’s Measure H. Steinberg, a former state senator, was the godfather of the Mental Health Services Act, which has generated billions of dollars in services.

“I believe we have to have multiple strategies … to lick this problem,” Ridley-Thomas said. “ It is kicking our asses. All right? It just is.”

In an op-ed for The Times, Steinberg gave a nod to New York City, saying that 90,000 people will be housed in motels, hotels and apartments there in 2019 under a consent decree requiring the city to provide shelter to everyone, and that the city has managed to get most of its homeless population off the streets.

But the idea is already drawing fire in Los Angeles, where some advocates for the homeless consider sheltering and warehousing too similar, and they fear the California shelter idea would drain money from permanent housing and other resources without providing long-term solutions. Kris Freed of Los Angeles Family Housing said her nonprofit could use a few more shelter beds, but she doesn’t see that as the right focus.

“The cost is so high to keep people housed in shelters that there won’t be enough money on the back end” for permanent housing, Freed said. “I understand the frustration from the public … and we get calls every day from homeowners where encampments are. But we’re moving people into housing faster than ever.”

Tommy Newman of United Way Los Angeles said a right to housing, not shelter, might make more sense. And he’d rather see the “statewide collective brainpower” focus on building that housing faster by scaling back environmental restrictions, regulatory requirements and land-use permits. In L.A. County, it can take two or three years to approve and build a single unit.

Even if you were to build the shelters, Newman said, “we’d be left with a monumentally complicated conversation about how to force people indoors.”

That’s a fair point, and one I’ve wrestled with on a personal level. Nearly 15 years ago, I tried to help Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a man with schizophrenia, move into supportive housing. He resisted with every fiber of his being, and under California law, he couldn’t be forced off the streets. It took a year, and a lot of hard work by several professionals, to earn his trust and get him to agree to housing, and it hasn’t been a smooth road since then.

Back when I was first trying to get help for Nathaniel, one of the people who told me we should be cautious about forcing people in against their will was Steinberg. I had sought his counsel because he’d worked so hard to help the thousands of homeless people suffering from mental illness. Let’s get services in place, Steinberg argued, before we challenge people’s civil rights.

Steinberg told me last week that his thinking has evolved somewhat in the years since then, as the homeless population has exploded. As mayor of Sacramento, which has a large homeless population, the pressure to find solutions hits him more directly now than it did when he was a state senator.

But he and Ridley-Thomas told me they are no less committed to supportive housing or to addressing homelessness prevention and the economic forces that keep pushing more people out of their homes. They said they view more shelters not as the answer but as a first step to long-term recovery for those who would otherwise be on the street for years while we build needed housing. Steinberg added that he believed most people would come indoors if they had the chance.

And if someone resists?

“I don’t think you arrest people,” Steinberg said, adding that some form of conservatorship might be a tool for getting someone to take advantage of an opportunity to improve their lives. “I just believe, and I think Californians believe, that living outdoors for a long period of time is by definition unhealthy. It shortens your life, and it puts you at risk of being a victim of violent crime or sexual assault.”

We’re probably a long way from the shelter idea being put into practice. Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas said they’ll look at executive, legislative and legal ways to move forward.

I don’t know if theirs is the best idea, but I do know this: California is in the midst of an epic human crisis years in the making, and we need new ideas for addressing it. So long as we don’t shortchange existing programs that work, it’s worth exploring this and other ways to step up the response.

Reposted with permission from the Los Angeles Times.

Metro Approves Funding for Destination Crenshaw

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson (center) with supporters after the Metro Board votes to grant $15 million to fund Destination Crenshaw. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) Board unanimously voted to approve $15 million in funding to support construction for Destination Crenshaw.

At 1.3 miles long, Destination Crenshaw will celebrate South Los Angeles, enhancing each Metro-owned property along the Crenshaw corridor. The outdoor museum intends to combat gentrification and the removal of cultural history while promoting economic development and pride for the surrounding community along the Crenshaw Corridor. Destination Crenshaw aims to ensure economic vitality for present and future residents of the community.

The action to award the Destination Crenshaw project funds came in response to a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, co-authored by Metro Directors Eric Garcetti, James Butts, Sheila Kuehl and Jacqueline Dupont-Walker asking Metro to explore a potential partnership and financial investment in the project.

“With Destination Crenshaw, Metro can be a partner in building an iconic transit-oriented community that celebrates South LA’s rich cultural heritage,” Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s a strategic investment that shows Metro is not only intent on improving mobility, boosting transit ridership, and spurring the local economy, but also about reinvigorating the communities it serves.”

“Destination Crenshaw is an opportunity to reimagine what development looks like in our communities”, said LA City Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson. “From the art and design to the intention behind the community outreach and hiring process, this project will help transform a community. Destination Crenshaw is a testament to Metro’s commitment to community driven efforts and what can be accomplished through true public private partnerships. We hope that Destination Crenshaw will inspire more projects that support the cultural heritage and economic vitality of neighborhoods typically negatively affected by investments in transportation.”

Destination Crenshaw will run alongside Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project (C/LAX), a new 8.5-mile light rail line currently under construction between the existing Metro Expo Line at Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards in Los Angeles and LAX. C/LAX is one of 12 transit projects funded by Measure R, with a projected opening in 2020. A total of $2.058 billion in funds have been allocated for the C/LAX project and the vote secures $15 million to support construction of Sankofa Park, just south of Leimert Park, which is anticipated to be the largest of ten platforms and pocket parks included in the Destination Crenshaw project.

Sankofa Park – a 49,000 square foot outdoor space walking distance from the new Leimert Park station – was conceived as an amphitheater for performances, festivals, and community gatherings. The gathering space and pedestrian-friendly enhancements further Metro’s goal of transit-supportive projects that help make streets safer for active modes of transportation and encourage more healthy activities such as walking and biking.

The Impact of African Americans in California

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas provides introductory remarks at the Anniversary of CalPRI. Photo by Leroy Hamilton

Remarks by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the One-year Anniversary of the CA Policy & Research Initiative (CalPRI)

Participants at the CalPRI. Photo by Leroy Hamilton

“It’s a privilege to be here with you all today to recognize and appreciate the impact of African Americans in the state of California. As with the country at-large, one cannot truly understand this state without understanding the impact and contributions that African Americans have made.

“From Pio Pico, in 1832, California’s last governor under Mexican rule, who was of mixed Spanish, Native American, and African ancestry… To the “Tall Man,” Mayor Tom Bradley, who is missed and significantly and appreciably improved the City of Los Angeles. As the years have shown us – and what was once said during the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – “the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy” are not inevitable.

Shakari Byerly, Principal Researcher at EVITARUS, shares data. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“It takes doing the work. And that work is constant and persistent advocacy. This is the mighty tool we have for advancing the cause of justice under law; for ensuring both fairness and rigor in all of our civic activities; and for securing the basic promise of equality that was codified in our founding documents.

“I am proud of CalPRI for carrying this mantle on behalf of our community and serving as the catalyst to translate ideas and policy into action. For providing the academic rigor and mobilizing expertise to influence the policy-making process. For pushing for innovative change and building networks throughout the state to support creative, pragmatic and actionable policy solutions on tangible issues for our community. Your work is impressive. It is appreciated. And I look forward to what this coming year brings.”

California Policy & Research Initiative booklet. Photo by Leroy Hamilton

LA County Partners with Sports Legends to Build World-Class Athletic and Academic Complex for Underserved Youth in South LA

(Left to Right) Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Doug Kimmelman, Tiger Woods, and Chris Evert

Teaming up with some of the biggest names in sports, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved building the Carol Kimmelman Athletic and Academic Campus, envisioned as one of the largest sports and education complexes for underserved youth and families in the South Bay, South LA, and surrounding communities.

The Kimmelman Campus will be constructed on approximately 80 acres of County-owned real estate currently occupied by the underperforming Victoria Golf Course in Carson. It will include 52 tennis courts, five soccer and multi-purpose fields, and an approximately 25,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art learning center with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Groundbreaking is scheduled this winter.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) Foundation, the LA Galaxy Foundation, and the TGR Foundation – founded by golf legend Tiger Woods and his late father, Earl Woods – will offer programs at the Kimmelman Campus at little or no cost to underserved local youth and families.

“With the Kimmelman Campus, our youth will have an amazing opportunity to unlock both their academic and athletic potential, and to learn about perseverance, teamwork, fair play, and other valuable life lessons both on and off the court,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “I am thrilled to work with Doug Kimmelman of the Kimmelman Foundation, Tiger Woods of the TGR Foundation, Chris Evert of the USTA Foundation, and others on this incredible public-private partnership.”

“Thanks to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ leadership, we are a giant step closer to bringing a world-class athletic and academic campus to Los Angeles,” Tiger Woods said. “TGR Foundation is excited to be part of the Carol Kimmelman Athletic and Academic Campus, where we can continue to spread our mission of empowering students to pursue their passions through education.”

“This is the most significant undertaking by the USTA Foundation on the West Coast supporting our mission of combining tennis and education together to change lives,” said Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion who chairs the USTA Foundation’s Board of Directors. “By making high-quality tennis and educational opportunities available to all local children, regardless of income, this campus will provide a transformative experience for thousands of young people that inspires them to succeed both on and off the court.”

The project is being built in honor of the late Carol Kimmelman, a member of the 1983 national champion USC women’s tennis team and former elementary school teacher in South L.A. who believed fervently in the power of tennis and other sports to transform the lives of young people from all backgrounds. When she succumbed to cancer in 2017, her husband and four children vowed to carry on her mission to make sports and education more equitable.

Doug Kimmelman, her husband and President of the Kimmelman Family Foundation, said, “Carol was passionate about the potential for children to learn important life lessons both in the classroom and on the tennis court or sports field. This exceptional, cutting-edge complex will be a safe place for young people throughout the region to experience these lessons firsthand, helping them achieve their full potential and opening doors throughout their lives.”

The USTA Foundation foresees establishing the West Coast hub of the National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) program at the Kimmelman Campus. NJTL offers tennis programs, youth services and college scholarships to more than 200,000 underserved youth around the country each year.

The USTA Southern California Tennis Association (SCTA) also intends to move their headquarters to the campus. Meanwhile, USTA’s Player Development division, which works to develop world-class American players, expects to make the campus its West Coast center of operations.

Dynamic tennis programming for children of all ages and abilities will be offered by both the SCTA and the USTA Foundation’s NJTL program on tennis courts spanning 29 acres, allowing more students throughout Los Angeles to grow and learn life lessons through the sport.

On the academic side, TGR Foundation will oversee the Kimmelman Campus’ expansive 25,000 square foot learning center, which will be equipped with high-tech labs, classrooms, and interactive stations that encourage innovative and hands-on STEM learning.

The project will also include two basketball courts; a sprint track; and training turf to promote active and healthy lifestyles for the entire community.