The shooting Sunday of a homeless suspect by Los Angeles police officers brought to the forefront again the problem of homelessness, an issue the new secretary of the Department of Housing & Urban Development hopes to one day end.
The latest video, currently going viral, shows just how difficult that task will be.
Members of the LAPD’s Central Division and Safer Cities initiative approached the homeless man, after police received a 911 about a possible robbery in the area.
“It’s clear there was a struggle for the officer’s gun,” Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith told the LA Times.
At one point during the confrontation a non-lethal Taser had been deployed, but Smith said it was “ineffective.”
The homeless man went by the moniker "Africa" and had a history of mental illness.
Activists have seized on the point that the homeless man wasn’t armed, although from the graphic video shot during the struggle it’s apparent that – like the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri – the suspect attempted to seize an officer’s sidearm.
Officers can be heard on the video repeatedly yelling “Drop the gun!” (Warning: Graphic Video)
Whether this turns out to be a justified shooting, like the one in Ferguson, is still being investigated, but it does bring up the challenge that homelessness presents and the violence often directed at – or initiated by – homeless people.
Estimates suggest that as many as a third to half of all homeless people in America suffer from serious mental illness.
Last month, HUD requested in its fiscal year 2016 budget some $2.5 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants.
HUD Secretary Julián Castro often speaks on the subject, and highlights the department is working hard to help the homeless find a permant place to live, either through homeownership or rentals.
In public remarks, Castro said that HUD is committed to working with federal, state, and local partners to end homelessness.
“We've made tremendous progress in recent years, including a 16% drop in chronic homelessness and a 33% drop in veteran homelessness,” he said.
Castro said another focus will be on urban community development.
“So we’re bringing new life to HUD initiatives that boost access to knowledge and employment. Later this month, we’ll award $75 million to nearly 750 Public Housing Authorities to connect residents with the education and job opportunities they need to build assets and improve their lives,” he said.
In 2012, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness have launched a new initiative, “Dedicating Opportunities to End Homelessness.”
The initiative focuses on 10 HUD-identified priority communities including Los Angeles, a well as Atlanta, Chicago, Fresno, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Tampa.
The program is designed to help them “align and supplement existing plans that address homelessness.”
At the federal level, the initiative is comprised of representatives from USICH and HUD’s offices of Field Policy and Management, Community Planning and Development, Public and Indian Housing, Multifamily Housing and Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
Police interactions with homeless people are by and large positive, but incidents like the LAPD shooting and this one, in Tempe, Arizona, ended in violence.
Watching the video below, serious observers would raise the question, how does one place a person like Africa in a housing program?
Warning: Graphic Video