It’s no secret that homelessness in the United States, especially in California, has reached critical levels. That the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in the world is dealing with a crisis that stems so clearly from inequality and neglect should have its predominantly left-leaning residents up in arms. And to some extent, they are.
Becky Dennison, the executive director of Venice Community Housing in Los Angeles who speaks with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” is one California resident that has not only dedicated her life’s work to helping address homelessness, but refuses to give up fighting for the well-being of her less fortunate neighbors against all odds.
“It’s urgent work; it’s necessary work,” Dennison, a former mechanical engineer, tells Scheer. “It’s, I think, one of the social justice and civil rights issues of our time. And so I want to be a part of that solution.”
The Venice Housing Community houses 500 people and plays a crucial part in helping put roofs over the heads of those who most need it. Part of Dennison’s motivation is she believes that housing is a human right and that housing is without a doubt the solution to homelessness. However, not everyone in her community feels the same way, or else, does but with a big caveat: they want the affordable housing projects to be placed somewhere far from their own homes.This phenomenon has become known as Nimbyism—NIMBY being an acronym for “Not in my backyard.” Dennison, on the other hand, has a different term for it: housing segregation.
As Dennison and Scheer conclude during their discussion, the issue of homelessness is intersectional, stemming from both class and racial divides.
“One thing we’ve never really considered in America in a serious way since the Great Depression are class divisions,” says Scheer. “And we always assumed, even in the Great Depression, we assumed it was temporary. People had fallen upon hard times, and so forth. But we are increasingly in a class-divided America. Sharp division.”
“This is a class issue,” the Venice Housing Community director agrees, adding, “it is also an issue of institutional racism. The overrepresentation of African Americans in the homeless community in Los Angeles is beyond compare.”
Listen to the full discussion between Dennison and Scheer as they grapple with one of the most pressing crises the U.S. faces today and trace both its roots as well as identify hope for a better future.