Unruh event discusses Los Angeles homelessness

On Tuesday evening, students and professors gathered at Ground Zero Performance Café for the “Homelessness in LA: The City of Dreams” event hosted by the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. Featuring USC alumnus and County of Los Angeles Supervisor, 2nd District Mark Ridley-Thomas, the talk examined legislation he introduced to address homelessness in Los Angeles County. The event was moderated by journalist Marylouise Oates, who was a former society columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Ridley-Thomas focused the discussion on his background working with the homeless, both from outside and within the government and the severity of the issue in Los Angeles County. Measure H, which will be on the March 7 ballot, would combat the issue. He said that his call to activism was catalyzed by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

“The nation was fundamentally upset,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I was in middle school, then called junior high school and it was hard to escape this powerful, charismatic presence and voice that I heard on the radio and I saw on television. Ever since that night, I’ve been on a journey as a pilgrim or devil’s aide of non violent direct action. His organization is known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I ended up being executive director of the SCLC in Los Angeles for the decade prior to my election into public office.”

Oates shared her support for Proposition H and added that there are 46,000 homeless people residing in Los Angeles County. Ridley-Thomas further explained how the proposition would combat this issue.

“We need to get services to individuals who are homeless —those individuals who need substantial mental health services, drug treatment services, rapid re-housing, psychiatric care centers,” Ridley-Thomas said. “These dollars from Measure H go to these services.”

When asked why homelessness is the issue he works to combat, Ridley-Thomas called it the defining civic issue in Los Angeles County. He added that L.A. is the epicenter of homelessness in not only California but in the United States too, as no other region has more homeless individuals.

“It is the most pressing issue of our time, and if we don’t do something about it now we will rue the day we forget to act,” Ridley-Thomas said.

After the initial discussion between Ridley-Thomas and Oates, Unruh associates asked the supervisor questions about the new administration’s effect on homelessness, the housing crisis in L.A. and USC’s role in the issue. Ridley-Thomas called homelessness a non-partisan issue.

“I think it’s really very important to appreciate that whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or anything in between, the homelessness issue transcends the matter of partisanship,” Ridley-Thomas said. “People regardless of their political orientation or their partisan status want this issue addressed.”

Sophie Greensite, a junior majoring in economics and an Unruh Associate at the event, said that everything Ridley-Thomas said struck a chord with her and that this event was different than the typical Tuesday Unruh event.

“This event was especially interesting because it wasn’t a panel — it was just a discussion between Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Marylouise Oates,” Greensite said. “I was really interested in what the supervisor had to say because he is one of the most powerful men for our county.”

Senior Laura Reilly, who attended the event, is helping to organize USC’s Homelessness Awareness Week, which will take place from Feb. 27 to March 3.

“It’s basically an opportunity to make homelessness a visual issue,” Reilly said. “We’re going to have tents that we put up, panels, speakers, and we’re doing a drive for hygiene kits. It’s basically a way for students to take action and get involved with something they care about.”