(en) Article on the Flamingo Squatters

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Thu, 4 Dec 1997 15:50:53 -0700

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This article appeared in the December issue of Change-Links, a Los Angeles Alternative Newspaper. _______________________________ The Flamingo Squatters: Human Rights vs. Property Rights by Lyn Gerry

Just before dawn on November 19, 30-40 Santa Monica cops raided a squat at the abandoned Flamingo Motel, and arrested three homeless activists -- Jennafer Waggoner, David Bush (both homeless), and Michael Reinsborough of Food Not Bombs.

When the police arrived, Michael said, he stepped off the Flamingo property with a video camera to document the arrest. Police grabbed him and smashed his camera before arresting him. Jennafer and David were chained to the building in anticipation of a raid. They were cut from their restraints and Jennafer was dragged across the property. The more than 50 residents of the Flamingo, were photographed by police then sent out into the street, homeless again.

Bureaucratic red tape has always plagued homeless programs, and this year, as had happened last year, homeless people were left out in the rain. Jennafer Waggoner, a homeless rights activist who serves on the City Social Services Commission and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, decided to reclaim the abandoned Flamingo Motel as an emergency shelter. It had once provided low-income transitional housing, until it was closed two years ago as part of a redevelopment scheme involving developers MacGuire-Thomas, who also have a hand in the Dreamworks project which is destroying the Ballona Wetlands a few miles to the south.

For eight days preceding the raid, homeless citizens had occupied the Flamingo Motel on Ocean Avenue and turned it into a home. With the support of activists from Food Not Bombs and other members of the community, the rooms in the motel were opened, cleaned and put to use. While city and county politicians dragged their feet about opening the barely adequate cold weather shelters, people took their lives into their own hands. The Flamingo protesters had called on city officials to declare a state of emergency. After stonewalling most of the week, Julie Rusk, the city's Manager of Human Services sent a letter to the Flamingo on the evening of November 18. Jennafer Waggoner, chained to the building, dictated an immediate response on behalf of the residents.

"Without city funding, " she wrote, "we have set up this emergency shelter, fed hundreds of meals and given physical and emotional support to many Santa Monica citizens. As you know, this shelter has been supported by the people of Santa Monica. Our meeting today did nothing to change any city policies that protect us in case of disasters. Not all human beings are protected by the laws of Santa Monica."

Judy Rambo, a spokesperson for the city, claimed that the police raid was in response to a complaint filed by Macguire-Thomas, the leasing agents for the building. She contended that Santa Monica cares about its homeless citizens, citing the $2,000,000 spent annually on homeless services as one of the most generous programs in the nation.

Jennafer Waggoner disagrees. The available facilities in the city are more than 1000 beds short of meeting the need, she said. And Santa Monica has led the nation in passing repressive "poor laws," which prohibit covering one's self with a blanket in a public park, sleeping in public or private places, recycling cans from dumpsters, and requiring permits to sell the local homeless newspaper.

Now that the cold weather shelters in the National Guard armories have "officially" opened, the city seems to consider the matter handled. But these facilities do not meet the need; they open only in the most extreme weather conditions, and eject residents at 5 AM, rain or shine. And, Governor Wilson has already announced that funding for these shelters will be cut from the fiscal '98 budget. The activists are demanding the city repeal it anti-homeless ordinances and create a "safe zone" on public property where homeless Santa Monicans can get access to sanitary, medical, and camping facilities on a year round basis.

Meanwhile, the protesters are out on bail and scheduled to appear in court on December 19. Transitional housing units stand empty due to real estate speculation while people remain homeless. Food is thrown away while people go hungry. The problem of homelessness is not going away. Neither are the activists. Says Jennafer Waggoner, "you can't just sweep us under the rug."

For more info about the Flamingo squatters, call Michael Reinsborough: (213) 735-8648 __________________________ Radio4All: http://www.radio4all.org/ The A-Infos Radio Project: http://www.radio4all.org/radio http://radio4all.web.net/

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