Commentary

LA Times Should Think Twice Before Bashing Church Response to Homeless Shelter

By Bill Donohue | July 27, 2020 | 5:17pm EDT
Pedestrians walk past the Los Angeles Times office building. (Photo credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past the Los Angeles Times office building. (Photo credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Government officials want to build a homeless shelter in Venice, a beachfront neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles. For good reason, those who live in the area don't want it. Indeed, no community wants a homeless shelter in its neighborhood.

For no good reason, the Los Angeles Times took after St. Mark Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for opposing the idea. 

St. Mark and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are not insensitive to the needs of the homeless. Indeed, St. Mark's helps Safe Place for Youth, a drop-in center that provides food for the homeless; the parishioners serve the meals. What concerns them is the building of a homeless shelter that is literally around the corner from the church and a Catholic elementary school.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is livid that the Church is offering resistance, saying "it is incomprehensible and disgraceful to see a church and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles fighting even a modest effort to get people permanently housed." 

Given its editorial perspective, it is entirely comprehensible, yet disgraceful, that the Los Angeles Times would play this shaming game. Would it be so quick to excoriate those affiliated with another religion—or those associated with a secular institution—for opposing the shelter? It admits that safety is a concern for those who live in the area, but it apparently does not mean much to them.

Maybe the paper should spend more time explaining why Los Angeles has such a serious homeless problem in the first place. Figures released last month, and reported by National Public Radio, show that 66,433 people live in the streets of Los Angeles County. This is up by 12.7 percent in one year. Why? 

Two years ago, the Southern California public radio station, KPCC, did an investigation of the homeless in Los Angeles County. Why were 43,000 people sleeping in the streets in tents, cars, and makeshift structures? "A KPCC investigation found reports of bedbugs, rats, foul odors, poor lighting, harassment, lax care in medical wards and even a 'chicken incubator' in a room where homeless people were sleeping." 

In other words, the homeless shelters are, as one occupant said, "dangerous as heck." The KPCC report detailed "theft, harassment, and even assault by other clients in shelters, and that staff were either indifferent to or untrained to handle the conflict."

Just last September, the Los Angeles Times editorial board ran a piece about the homeless in Venice that was totally fair. It accurately observed "the tension between the homeless and the other residents of the neighborhood there," noting that there is a need to "balance the rights of the homeless with the needs of the city."

So what broke? This editorial implies that the Catholics who live there, and who already service the homeless, are not acting unreasonably when they defend the needs of their parish and schoolchildren. Whoever wrote the editorial of July 26, 2020 should explain why those who wrote the editorial of September 11, 2019 were wrong.

As expected, the "open-minded" Hollywood crowd wants nothing to do with the homeless. The closest homeless shelter to the city center of Hollywood is nearly a quarter-mile away; one is nearly a half-mile away and another is over three-quarters of a mile away. All others are located more than a mile away.

In the Hollywood Studio District, there is a homeless hospice and there is a food bank located in Beverly Hills, but these are not the kinds of facilities that endanger innocent persons.

Why aren't the diversity mavens at the Los Angeles Times railing against this kind of classist discrimination? Moreover, it sure looks like systemic racism. Maybe it's because those who work at the paper live in a filthy rich, snow-white neighborhood.

The headquarters of the Los Angeles Times is in El Segundo, a city in the Los Angeles county. The closest homeless shelter is more than 6 miles away. A Google search found that "El Segundo home prices are not only among the most expensive in California, but El Segundo real estate also consistently ranks among the most expensive in America." It is 71.2 percent white and 3.8 percent black. Looks like there is enough white guilt there among the white privileged to last a lifetime.

Bill Donohue is president and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization. He was awarded his Ph.D. in sociology from New York University and is the author of eight books and many articles.

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