(Note: A more in-depth version from 2018 of this can be found here)
What is a Be Of Hope Intentional Encampment (BOHIE - pronounce bowie)?
It can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years on a waiting list to get a permanent supportive housing unit. In the meantime, and with few other options, people have to be somewhere. Right now they are on our sidewalks. The picture above is from this article on a group of women in Oakland who have taken over a vacant lot for camping. Their story is inspiring.
In a conversation with Lois Arkin, the founder of the Eco Village here in Rampart Village, and after understanding that the Eco Village is what is called an “Intentional Community,” the concept of an "Intentional Encampment" (IE) for people who are unhoused popped into my head. The upsides to this are tremendous and after having thought about it for quite some time, I am seeing very little downside. What we need is a willingness by our electeds in LA City Hall to embrace this humane concept.
I envision a BOHIE to be a space like a city owned parking lot or parking structure, an unused plot of pubic or private land or just any space that can be designated as a safe place to set up tents. And I am most certainly not suggesting we set these up somewhere outside of Palmdale. I know NYMBYs are going to hate this but people who are unhoused are already living on your streets. There would be rules, self-governance, and oversight. But more than anything in the world, it would show we care about them. That there is a place for them.
The BOHIEs can be supplied with solar showers so folks can get cleaned up for maybe, let’s see, possibly going around to look for employment maybe? Seriously, can you imagine trying to look for a job and not being able to get cleaned up? It must be horribly frustrating to say the least. This baby is available on Amazon for...wait for it...$15.90.
They can also each be supplied with their own portable toilets. How undignified would you feel if you didn’t have a place to crap? And for women? I will not go into the graphic details. I think you get the point. This one you can get at Walmart right now for $67.94. So I don’t want to hear that we can’t afford to do this. A special collection bin can be supplied by the Department of Sanitation to ensure the waste is properly disposed of. I am sure the department can advise as to the best way to handle this. Maybe there are other options. At the current price tag by the city of $330,000 per year on a porta john, this is not necessarily the most cost effective way to go but certainly this is a conversation we can have.
Heck, we can even supply folks with tents for less than $50.00 a pop. Again, right now at Walmart, a tent for $29.99.
One of the biggest problems facing people who are unhoused is access to clean water. The BOHIEs can be supplied with 55gal plastic barrels and the city has water trucks that could go around and fill them up when needed. If there are not enough trucks then maybe the city can invest in more of them.
With people living in BOHIEs, it will be so much easier to bring people who are unhoused the City and County services that are available. Clinics and medical facilities can send around staff for pop-up clinics. The department of Social Services can make sure folks have food stamps, etc. By having folks in one spot, it will make it so much easier for the service providers to help them.
One thing that prevents people who are unhoused from getting a job is the lack of a mailing address. This can be solved by allowing folks to get mail at their BOHIEs. We can supply a row of mail boxes and assign each tent with a number. The cost would be minimal. A residential mailbox can be had from Home Depot for less than 20 bucks.
Large planter boxes can be constructed in the center of the BOHIE where folks can grow some of their own food. I am not saying this will feed everyone but I know I get a sense of self-pride with my own little window garden I have growing and they can experience this as well.
City supplied dumpsters with regular pick-ups, which would be less expensive than having city sanitation crews cleaning up the streets all the time.
And lastly, we could even supply the BOHIEs with electricity (paid for by the savings from not having to do all those very expensive sweeps). Imagine all the things you would have to go without because you don’t have access to juice. And if you had juice, then it would be logical to also provide them with...wait for it...internet access. With internet access, they would be able to apply for jobs, teach themselves or even take online courses, keep in touch with family members, and a whole lot more.
You can’t tell me the city, in partnership with community organizations, can’t get this done. It is time to find real immediate solutions to the problem of people who are unhoused. You really want people off the streets? Give them a safe place to stay, clean water, a toilet, a shower, the ability to possibly grow their own food, have a mailing address, access to electricity, and access to the internet. Give them dignity. You do realize that with these handicaps removed, the chances for people who are unhoused to find employment and permanent housing greatly increase? Surely you see that, right?
Rachael Rose Luckey is a progressive political activist, with special emphasis on the LGB/Trans Movements, living in Los Angeles. As President of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, she is one of only a couple of dozen openly Transgender elected Government Officials in the nation. She also participates on community advisory committees/working groups including LAPD and LA Care. (The views expressed are solely her own and do not represent the views of any political party, organization, government entity or candidate/elected official.)