When Media and Its Consumers Exacerbate Xenophobic Attitudes Toward the Homeless in Long Beach
Photo by Brian Addison.
Our editor, Brian Addison, was asked to speak at the Compassionate Town Hall: Homelessness in Long Beach, in regard to the role media plays in driving the conversation surrounding homelessness. Here is the full transcript of what he had planned to say; due to time limits, this is not a direct transcript of what he directly said. To watch the entire town hall Facebook live feed, click here.
If you think I’m here to praise media efforts, you’re wrong; I am also not here to vilify them. What I am here is to do is to talk about the almost impossible way to discuss homelessness objectively in current times—and why that presents a problem for reporters.
To objectively talk about homelessness—to analyze the question of “What is homelessness?”—one needs to be well-versed in public policy, mental health, housing, gentrification, and dealing with marginalized communities—no easy task to hand over to a reporter, let alone a local one who’s dealing with multiple subjects.
So what ends up happening is that we have naïve, albeit tenacious journalists tackling a vastly complex subject because there is a journalistic imperative to do so—and perhaps subconsciously aiming for stories that rile heartstrings or strike nerves or attract online traffic. And what this does is lead to massive speculation rather than genuine inspection into the issues surrounding the causes and possible solutions to homelessness.
This problem for media is twofold: one is itself and the other is the way that news is contemporarily distributed and how it is consumed.
This isn’t a Long Beach issue. It’s not an LA issue. It’s not a California issue. This is a nationwide, human issue—I’ve said this before and I will repeat it until I am blue in the face: we are dealing with fellow humans, each with complex, multi-faceted lives that we don’t know about.
On the former point, there was one week last year when Urban Community Outreach connected twelve people with their families. Twelve people who had no means to find their families. Twelve success stories. Twelve tangible examples that homelessness isn’t just about drug abuse or mental instability or a lack of motivation or or or… Twelve facts.
Yet, no Long Beach publication reported on it. Not one.
That same week, one local publication took the sole account of a homeless couple, who speculated that the influx of “all these homeless” from LA had prompted a rise in burglaries in East Long Beach. Additionally, another publication prompted me to have to take the editor and journalist to task: their headline insinuated that the City of Long Beach with a Capital C was booting people from homes along the river while, in the same article, they praised the work of Quality of Life officers and our health department for connecting people with services.
So what are the issues with these two stories?
In the first, it is egregious to take the sole account of a homeless couple, speculating that a rise in burglaries is being caused solely by an increase in homelessness. It is, flat out, unethical reporting because it further exacerbates the falsehood that homeless is equated with criminality.
With the latter story, it is not only placing sole blame on our City and misaligning them as evil people who sweep homeless encampments for pleasure—it is the blunt fact that a tent is not a home. I will be extremely frank about this: stop calling it a home. A blanket covered with feces and urine is not part of a home. They do not live in homes. And to insinuate that quality of life officers unilaterally kick them out is repulsive. And just as repulsive is the belief that anyone in their right mind—and by right mind, I mean the norms we collectively respect as a society—would choose that.
So here, we have the media itself not quite getting the picture, right? But then there’s that other side… The consumer.
I am talking you. I am talking me. I am talking all of us.
Apps like NextDoor and comment threads, which permit people to anonymously or publicly post whatever they happen to be thinking at any time, have fueled xenophobia, particularly when it comes to homelessness. I found myself repulsed when, on NextDoor, I saw a picture of a person, their face clearly in view—and a photo that was taken I am sure without their permission—with the caption: “I am pretty sure this guy sells dope.”
Wow. Just… Wow. Tidbits like these become all the more common when paired with articles that insinuate homeless-equals-crime and the City as a heartless group of secret human-haters that are unilaterally trying to cover up the homeless situation.
I hate to break it to you, Conspiracy Theorists, but no one is trying to cover it up because we can’t cover it up. It is too vast, too spread, and too complex for anyone—let alone the City of Long Beach—to cover up. Ultimately, it’s because this isn’t just a Long Beach issue; it’s not an LA issue; it’s not a California issue. This is a nationwide, human issue—I’ve said this before and I will repeat it until I am blue in the face: we are dealing with fellow humans, each with complex, multi-faceted lives that we don’t know about.
So what do we do? Here I am, painting this picture of media failing and fire’n’brimstone—what do we do?
In regard to the media, some of whom advertise themselves as “hyperlocal,” are being detrimental by being so. The little to no coverage regarding things like the already-passed Measure HHH and its sister Measure H, set to face LA voters in March, is harmful in educating the Long Beach readership. These types of propositions set standards for alleviating or addressing homelessness in our neighbor to the north—and therefore impact our situation because LA’s situation is our situation.
Apps like NextDoor and comment threads, which permit people to anonymously or publicly post whatever they happen to be thinking at any time, have fueled xenophobia, particularly when it comes to homelessness.
I live near Bixby Park, basically Broadway and Junipero, and I have undoubtedly seen a rise in people turning the park into a makeshift place to rest. There was one woman in particular whom I noticed because she had a daughter and they owned a car. I finally had the chance to approach her, talk to her, and her story was simple: living previously in South LA, her complex was bought and she was provided notice that her rent would be increasing beyond her means. Already living paycheck-to-paycheck, she was forced out and asked her daughter where she wanted to live for the time being.
“The beach,” her daughter told her.
So this woman took to Long Beach so that she could still commute to work while providing her daughter a moment of respite in their very precarious situation.
This is a story you will be hearing more and more.
But more importantly, I am asking you to take to task the bullies, the uninformed, the manipulators, the fearful… Your posts, your comment in threads—they’re seen whether you think they are or not. And it is ultimately up to us—the compassionate ones—to assure our homeless brothers and sisters that they already are not being vilified or outcast or marginalized more than they are.
It is up to us to stand up for those who can’t.