Why Is Hollywood Quiet on Homelessness?

Commentator Gary Dauphin asks why the entertainment industry hasn't done more to help California's homeless problem.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Earlier in the show we heard about plans to battle homelessness in Los Angeles. Commentator and Los Angeles resident, Gary Dauphin, wonders why some in the entertainment industry haven't done more to help.

Mr. GARY DAUPHIN (Writer): Here's a little true or false Hollywood trivia game for you to play at home.

Is George Clooney a liberal? Are Brangelina running with Wyclef in Haiti again? Is Hollywood out of touch with regular Americans? And lastly, do you actually care about any of those questions, or did you just watch the movie?

Personally, the politics of the famous and pretty strike me largely as a form of infotainment, high-end celebrity gossip. Still, not all true Hollywood stories are created equal. Consider for example, the curious tale of L.A.'s homeless.

It turns out that the greater Los Angeles area isn't just the capital of American movie making and glamour; it's also, by all accounts, the homeless capital of these United States. A census last summer found that on any given night, a little over 80,000 people were on the street or in shelters in Los Angeles. While over the course of 2005, a whopping total of 224,000 were, literally, out of doors at some point. More if you factor in neighboring areas like Long Beach.

Thirty-four thousand Angelinos are described as chronically homeless; a bureaucratic shorthand that encompasses people that have been on the streets for a year or more and also have one or more crippling ailments: mental illness, substance abuse, hepatitis, tuberculosis, AIDS, and so on.

Needless to say, close to 40 percent of Los Angeles' homeless are black, despite African-Americans being only nine percent of the county's population overall. And let's not even get into the inevitable undercounts of any homeless among L.A.'s immigrant population.

Starting in the 1970's, the Los Angeles city fathers pursued a policy of containment regarding the homeless, quarantining the largely colored population within a forty-block zone in L.A.'s old downtown core. Much of the region's social service infrastructure, missions, shelters, food banks, single room occupancy hotels, drug rehab, was confined to downtown through the careful application of zoning laws. And county cops developed a funny habit of picking up homeless folks in Santa Monica and dumping them downtown.

All this created a concentrated self-eating pocket of misery, unlike any in America. The epicenter of this deliberate horror is L.A.'s historic downtown core. This is a place cynics in the L.A. media like to call the Donut Hole, given that, for locals, it's as if the area cut into the map by the 10,5, and 101 freeways doesn't actually exist.

For the housed, L.A.'s downtown is an empty zone, marked only by a lot of Office Towers, the Lakers, the Staples Center, and a fashion district that comes undone at five, like Cinderella after a ball; the hum of commerce giving way to the jerky mumblings of the ill, the addicted, and the destitute.

Hollywood, liberal cause-chasing Hollywood, has been living next to downtown since jump. The ties that bind downtown to the dream factory are not simply geographical. And that not a day goes by that someone isn't making a movie or TV show in downtown L.A. Hollywood location managers in search of urban settings love downtown L.A.; so gritty, so urban, so empty. Except for all those homeless. And at any given moment, whole blocks are being acidulously scrubbed and cleaned in preparation for their close-up.

Most people in the entertainment industry who've spent any time filming in L.A. know exactly what's happening here. And yet, I can't recall a single speech at the Academy, can't site a single segment on Entertainment Tonight, that has ever mentioned the issue.

Don't get me wrong; it's still technically a free country, so I don't begrudge celebrities their choice of causes. But until I see George Clooney or Brangelina step out of their trailers while on-set downtown to take a look at the misery that gets edited out of their frame, forgive me if I think their public displays of partisanship is just another big, loud, and thoroughly pointless Hollywood production.

CHIDEYA: Gary Dauphin is a writer based in Los Angeles, California.

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