Cold Homes and Cold Hearts

It is 45 degrees right now INSIDE MY APARTMENT. Will I ever feel warm again? Who's to say? (Please be sure to check back in three months and read my complaints about how hot it is.)

Our heater has been broken all winter, and while we have a small electric space heater, it takes about two hours to heat our bedroom, never fully heats our common area, and unlike a gas heater, can't be left on when we're not home.

We do, of course, have blankets and jackets, but at a certain point, they only serve to trap the cold closer to our skin.

When we found out our heater was broken in December and our landlord asked if he could hold off on fixing it until the summer (he's re-doing the building's entire heat/air system in summer and understandably didn't want to pay to fix something that was going to be ripped out in six months), we said sure. We've got blankets and a space heater. It's California! How cold can it get?

Really fucking cold, it turns out.

That's the thing about California--because we're not used to the cold, we don't build our homes to withstand the cold. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn the walls of our early 1900s-era apartment building were made of papier-mâché.

Our bath towels no longer dry when we hang them. They are permanently damp.

I spilled coffee on a blanket TWO DAYS AGO and the spot where I spilled it is still wet. I am not exaggerating.

Our dogs have taken to pacing and whimpering when climbing into our bed and huddling together for warmth fails them, and I sleep in upwards of three layers now.

The Los Angeles Times reported a couple of days ago that more people died of exposure sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles last year than in New York City, where it actually snows. Three months ago, I wouldn't have believed it, but if a broken heater can make me this miserable when I have a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head, I can't imagine how cold it gets for people who don't have those things.

The options for those seeking shelter in Los Angeles are woefully inadequate, and many of those that do exist are winter-only shelters--several of which have already closed for the season, despite the fact that temperatures are colder now than they were during the holidays. And that of course is setting aside the extreme heat that summer brings, also capable of causing death.

Attempts to open temporary housing facilities thus far in Koreatown, Sherman Oaks, and Venice have been met with massive protests and threats of recall lobbed at the city councilmembers who proposed them, which frankly, is a fucking embarrassment and makes me ashamed to live in this city.

Fortunately, a shelter proposed in my neighborhood seems to have broad support from community organizations, though individual homeowners have certainly shown their capacity for cruelty in the comments section.

I think that cruelty comes from fear and a misguided sense of self-preservation. If people can somehow convince themselves that people experiencing homelessness are sleeping on the streets or in their cars because of some sort of moral failing, they don't have to accept the scary fact that they too could be one stroke of bad luck away from losing everything and that people experiencing homelessness are not "others," but rather just that, people who have fallen on hard times.

There also seems to be a fundamental disconnect in these individuals, who want someone to "do something" about homelessness, provided of course it is not done in their backyard.

At least some of the Los Angeles voters who overwhelmingly approved ballot measures H and HHH--which allotted money for the construction of homeless housing and for providing supportive services such as counseling and drug rehabilitation programs, to ensure people remain housed--are the same people who refuse to allow a single dollar of that money to be spent building housing in their neighborhoods. For them, it seems the measures were an attempt to throw money at a problem in the hopes they would never have to see or think about it again.

Instead, we are left in a situation that is truly shameful, where money earmarked by taxpayers to house and serve the nearly 60,000 people who live without homes in Los Angeles County remains unspent and those 60,000 human beings remain unsheltered, all because a handful of spoiled rich homeowners with the time and leisure to be squeaky wheels at city meetings held during hours when most people have to be at work have decided they'd rather pretend those people don't exist.

It's important for those of us who do support the construction of homeless housing to get that support on the record (a letter or email to your local city councilmember will suffice for those of us who can't make it to city hearings). Because it may be cold in here, but it's a hell of a lot colder out there.


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