Guy Adams: A one-way ticket to anywhere but here

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

You only have to pull up at LA's traffic lights to see evidence of the city's spiralling homeless problem: lines of "pan-handlers" who, like throwbacks to the Great Depression, wander down lines of cars asking you to spare a dime.

In the UK, beggars traditionally request spare change for a "cup of tea". Out here, they play to a different national obsession. Most carry makeshift cardboard signs claiming to be "military veterans". Older ones often add that they served in Vietnam.

The US public tends to respond remarkably generously. Americans are charitable souls who donate more of their income to good causes than any society on earth. And few things send them diving to their wallets faster than a bit of movingly-rendered patriotism.

Politicians couldn't be more different, though. Like many conurbations, LA's cities and neighbourhoods treat the homeless with a kind of civic Nimbyism: doing everything in their power to shift them to a different part of town, in case they depress property values.

Some offer free, one-way bus tickets to homeless residents who fancy disappearing. Others have been rumoured to dole out cheap one-way flights to Hawaii, reasoning that once there, they'll find it impossible to return.

The problem made headlines this week, when my native Santa Monica – supposedly one of the most liberal cities in Los Angeles – was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly getting police to operate a "deportation programme" to harass the transient population into settling in other parts of town.

Most ended up on Skid Row, the notorious sector of Downtown LA which is effectively a ghetto for drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless. Quite how this alleged policy sits with Santa Monica's civic motto – Populus felix in urbe felici (fortunate people in a fortunate city) – is unclear. Perhaps we'll find out in court.

Public told to beat it

One pot of dosh that won't be going to help residents of Skid Row is the $1.4m the cash-strapped City of Los Angeles spent on Michael Jackson's memorial service, at the nearby Staples Center.

The local Mayor, Antonio Villariagosa, justifies this outlay, which paid for thousands of shouty, gun-toting policemen to fill surrounding streets, on the grounds that the King of Pop's farewell last week represented an important public event.

Important it may be. But this was no public celebration: punters who failed to secure tickets were specifically ordered to stay at home, lied to about plans for a funeral procession, and banned from getting within several blocks of this made-for-TV memorial.