Homeless. Again: Protesters rail against "Tiny Houses" mandate
A group of around 40-50 protesters gathered outside of the Los Angeles City Hall midday on Friday, March 18, rallying against the City Council's decision to confiscate the "Tiny Houses" built by Elvis Summers, the founder of the tiny houses project and a dedicated non-profit activist, from city streets.
Summers has been building and donating the mini-homes on wheels to the homeless as an initiative to provide temporary shelter for the city's poorest inhabitants.
“I guess the most heart breaking thing I can say is me and Elvis having to take the houses back from a lot of the people that were living finally comfortably,” Marisol Medina, architect of the tiny houses, said as she spoke up amongst the protesters.
The activists showed their support and alliance with the homeless as they united to protest around noon for almost one and a half hours, demanding that the City Council return the tiny houses.
In June 2015, the City Council and the mayor approved two new ordinances that allow authorities to confiscate encampments and other property belonging to the homeless on a 24-hour notice. The ordinances were implemented as a response to the rising rates of homelessness in Los Angeles and are meant to serve for the safety of the public.
Connie Llanos, spokeswoman for Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, said in a statement that the tiny houses are a safety hazard for the homeless as well as for the neighbors because activities such as drug use and prostitution have been found to occur.
Summers addressed this issue at the rally saying that it's unrealistic to claim that the houses are to blame for the already existing drug and prostitution problem among the homeless.
“That exists and has well before the tiny houses came along. Two separate issues. It's important. It needs to be addressed, but it has nothing to do with shelter,” Summers said.
“I understand some of the concerns from some of the home owners, from some of the local officials, some of the governmental officials. I get it. But our tiny homes is a step up from what it was,” said protester Brian Engelman, who himself has been part of the home owner association for many years.
Engelman said that the idea behind the tiny houses is to take things as they are and try to make them a little bit better until a permanent solution can be achieved.
While the City Council argues that the tiny houses are a poor solution in dealing with the homeless population, Summers and the other activists are not claiming that this is the ultimate solution.
“Tiny houses are not a permanent solution, it is a temporary bridge between the gutter and permanent housing,” Summers said. “Permanent housing is what's needed. But it's immoral and wrong for us to allow people to stay on the streets and in the gutters and not help them.”
“How inhuman do you have to be to say, 'I would rather you be actually sleeping on the street than in at least a comfortable little box,'” said Adam Kokesh, an author and activist who came all the way from Arizona to join the rally.
Before the rally began, a press conference was held in the City Hall which ended abruptly before allowing for questions, which stirred anger amongst the protesters.
“I wanted to ask [Councilman Curren D. Price Jr.], 'okay so councilman, you've spent millions and millions of dollars fighting homelessness, and here comes Elvis Summers to throw pennies compared to what you've spent and he's providing the real solution,'” Kokesh said.
Kokesh also said that the decision made by the City Council to seize the tiny houses is their way of taking control and manipulating the situation.
“These are the desperate actions of a dying system, desperately clinging to the grasp of power it still has over people,” Kokesh said. “ We are here literally in the shadows of the banks that run the world. We are just miles away from Hollywood, the storytellers who tell the illusions that keep us enslaved. The absurd wealth that we are surrounded by in contrast to the poverty on the streets should really tell you something about how the system is set up and how it is designed to keep you down.”
The battle between the activists and the City Council has yet to be settled. Despite the setback, Summers and his fellow activists continue to sign homeless people up for housing and he will, if necessary, file a lawsuit against the city.
Summers said, “We can all work together. There are many many many ways that this can work for everybody. And it doesn't take years, it just takes people to actually get off their asses and do something.”