Homelessness on the Westside: the juxtaposition of crime and vulnerability
Try to imagine a life without shelter, no security, and no guarantee of safety. A life that involves going to sleep fearful of being robbed, attacked, or even worse. A kind stranger offers to buy you a new pair of shoes, but you reject the offer, knowing they will be stolen off your feet in your sleep. Unfortunately, this is the true reality of our homeless community here in Santa Monica. For the most part, Santa Monica is a safe city to live in. Low crime rates and little to no gang activity make it a pleasant community to reside in, but for the homeless it’s a different story.
According to the city of Los Angeles' biennial homeless census, as of May 2015, approximately 44,359 homeless people were currently in Los Angeles County, 70 percent of them unsheltered. With this significant amount of the homeless unsheltered, all of these people are vulnerable to being attacked or robbed. Santa Monica however, has over 30 homeless service locations across the city; including showers, housing, food, and medical facilities.
In an interview with a man who identifies himself as J.R., he explains that homeless individuals choose to stay in Santa Monica because of the sense of safety the city provides.
J.R. assures that their safety is not absolute. “Someone tried to steal my bag in my sleep last week while I was sleeping," says J.R.
He uses the term “vamps” or “vampires” to describe the people who go out to steal anything they can get their hands on. These individuals will go out of their way and assault, and in extreme cases even murder to get what they want. Whether it is food, valuables, clothing, or sex.
And these real life "vampires" are not just some young-adult book series either. Dee Quincy originally moved from Africa as an international student, and now roams the streets of Santa Monica.
“I try to keep to myself,” Quincy says., “being a woman is hard. People steal and provoke you everyday.”
Quincy told a story of a man trying to make an advance to her, and beat her because she didn’t go through with it.
Felicia Mallon, an outreach Specialist at OPCC’s Daybreak location explains that it is common for homeless people not to sleep out in the open at night. Instead, they find refuge from a late night bus ride or a 24-hour restaurant.
“I do not know of any one of my clients who has not been either attacked or stalked," says Mallon.
According to Mallon, The OPCC is partnered with UCLA's rape treatment center. This gives victims specific physical and psychological treatments they might not normally receive.
Mallon explains the importance of the SPDAT, a questionnaire intended to place and categorize homeless individuals and families and determine how faculty will assess their needs. The questions are chosen to see how vulnerable the individual may be.
An example of one of the questions would be “Does anybody force or trick you to do things you don’t want to do?”
These questions provide the OPPC with necessary information for the homeless individual, while at the same time, raising awareness of homeless on homeless crime in our community.
This awareness is crucial to the quality of life of the homeless community in Santa Monica. Going to sleep with a guarantee of security is something most people tend to take for granted. The safety of Santa Monica’s homeless community continues to be a growing concern as special interests groups make an effort to make the city as safe as possible for all citizens.