Saturday, August 13, 2022

Larry Buford on Homelessness: Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures!

Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941, Homeless crisis today
Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941, Homeless crisis today

*Can internment (a la Japanese WWII) be a temporary fix for the homeless crisis?

Since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor 78 years ago, history has painted the Japanese internment camps as an “atrocity.” But, understandably, the mood of America after that merciless surprise attack, was nothing short of sheer angst and desperation.

Record numbers of Americans volunteered for military service; it was a call to action! The mere fact that the United States Navy was so caught off guard, created a strong suspicion that Japanese spies had compromised U.S. military intelligence. It did not help that the Japanese diplomat to the U.S. reportedly knew of the planned attack while negotiating peace with White House officials.

The official death toll after the attack was 2403 which included 68 civilians. The question quickly became: “How far-reaching was the plan to invade America?” Thus Japanese-American internment seemed the proper course of action at the time (with some deliberation) to prevent anti-Americanism from spreading throughout the homeland. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Fast forward to 2019 – the homelessness crisis in California which is the highest in the country with nearly 130,000 homeless men, women and children. Statistics show that since 2018, the homeless population has jumped 16% in the city of Los Angeles, and 12% county-wide. Now, when (bond measures) Measure H and Proposition HHH appeared on the ballots, I questioned why the housing developers were at the top of both budget allocation lists. It appeared to me that the developers/builders were double-dipping and that they would get the lion’s share of the budget. Reports are proving that to be the case – instead of building adequate and sufficient low-cost units at a reasonable $11K they are building upscale units at $550K; taking much longer to build and exhausting the budget to the point that officials are looking for other resources to cover the cost while the homeless population continues to grow.



In his article, “How close is L.A. to building 10,000 houses for homeless people?,” L.A. Times Senior Writer Doug Smith writes: “Since Proposition HHH passed, construction costs for supportive housing have climbed to an average of more than $550,000 per unit, and federal tax credits — the primary source of funding for supportive housing — lost value because of the recent federal tax cut.”

Michael Shellenberger, contributing writer, Forbes, wrote in his series Why California Keeps Making Homelessness Worse: “California is home to some of the world’s toughest environmental and public health laws, but skyrocketing homelessness has created an environmental and public health disaster. The 44,000 people living, eating, and defecating on the streets of L.A. have brought rats and medieval diseases including typhus. Garbage is everywhere. Experts fear the return of cholera and leprosy.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has introduced some interim outreach programs that include A Bridge Home (which is somewhat stalled by political red tape), and drop-in-the-bucket intervention and clean-up programs that are backed by no consequence to encourage personal accountability on the part of the homeless. People camp where they want; park where they want (even with expired DMV tags); and do what they want (drugs, indecency etc.); and because of this license, the homeless experience has evolved into its own sense of entitlement, and violent behavior never seen before.

Reverend Andy Bales, CEO of L.A.’s Union Rescue Mission says: “We are seeing behaviors from our guests that I’ve never seen in 33 years…they are so bizarre and different that I don’t even feel right describing the behaviors. It’s extreme violence of an extreme sexual nature. I have been doing this for 33 years and never seen anything like it.”

When it comes right down to homelessness, Los Angeles and California at large, are in a state of emergency. Because of politics, poor judgment and lack of vision; our leaders are not in step with the needs of the people whether housed or unhoused. It creates an atmosphere of rejection and resentment (“us” vs “them”) on both sides. That’s what happens when you give more weight and thought to numbers rather than process.

So, what can we do to mitigate this emergency? I propose we take a page out of the Japanese internment. Find locations where we can temporarily house groups of homeless people and give them an address where they can be identified and accounted for (not under some overpass). Gear all of the outreach resources that are now on the streets to specified locations where they can be more effective and better equipped to monitor progress towards transitioning to permanent residency. Identify the homeless who have skills and know-how; who could become part of the paid workforce at those locations.

What good would it do to place someone into a $550k unit who has not been properly transitioned from a street mindset to an orderly housing community? They most likely would not show appreciation for it!
The difference between the Japanese internment is, during that time, we transitioned people out of their homes; now we want to transition people into homes. Two different times; two different eras; but desperate times call for desperate measures.

larry buford (headshot)
Larry Buford

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). Also read:

Larry Buford
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, and author of Book/CD titled "Things Are Gettin' Outta Hand" (Steuben Pub.) He writes Human Interest articles and entertainment reviews for various newspapers across the country. He is also an editor, and provides services for press releases, interviews, business letters, resumes, etc. A native Detroiter, he is a former Motown songwriter.



  1. The author seems not to know that a Presidential Commission recommended, Congress passed legislation, and President Reagan signed into law in 1988 a public apology and individual monetary compensation to Japanese Americans forcibly removed and incarcerated during WWII without individual due process. They said and it was due to “wartime hysteria, racial prejudice, and a failure of political leadership.” There are books, documentary films, and both high school and college curricula that acknowledge that the mass incarceration and indefinite detention of persons of Japanese ancestry was racist scapegoating and a culmination of over two decades of white nationalism and anti-Asian agitation on the West Coast. It was NOT a reasonable policy as the author asserts.

    To try to resurrect the WWII concentration camps is one thing — it is extremely bizarre to try to tie this with a proposal to address the homeless crisis. The most successful approach to ending homelessness has been found to put public funding into acquiring or building housing for those on the streets. Addressing addictions or medical issues or mental health issues cannot be successfully done without the stability of living in a secure home.

    There are no good ideas being advanced in this article.

  2. Thank you Susan…I appreciate your feedback. The theme of the article is desperation. I tried to be very careful not to make “assertions” but rather to report what history has already done. President Roosevelt did not approve the WWII internment until February 1942 – two months after Pearl Harbor; so there was some deliberation. We cannot know or get a real sense of all the dynamics that were at play then, just like the dynamics that were at play before, during and after the Civil War. War is war; and war is hell for all stakeholders. My aim is to try and shine a light on the homelessness crisis that would bring about some meaningful resolution before it becomes a “dog chase the tail” like the Vietnam war, or the war on drugs. Homelessness can be stemmed more effectively if politicians, developers and the homeless themselves were held more accountable.

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