May 22, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Opinion: Response to ‘Santa Monica—Dawn of the Downtown Dead Now Playing in Santa Monica’

By Michelle Gray

In an inaccurate and cruelly reductive piece, “Santa Monica—Dawn of the Downtown Dead Now Playing in Santa Monica”, commercial real estate developer and manager and current Housing Commission applicant Michael Jolly idealizes historic homelessness as more tolerable and unthreatening, warning us that today “dirty man-made monsters and criminals on the loose” (read: unhoused people) mark the “dawn of an apocalypse”.

While Jolly’s appreciation of local housing problems may be recent and uncomplicated, homelessness is an old and long-growing crisis sustained by multiple complex, systemic failures and more than a few bad or indifferent actors. While the number of homeless people has increased in recent years, it is neither new nor unique to Santa Monica. 

It is, however, a monstrous experience.

Homelessness erodes the bodies and spirits of those without homes as well as the communities in which they struggle badly to survive. Jolly and others who malign homeless people speak to housed Santa Monicans’ real and justified fear, anger, and despair about worsening conditions here. But caricaturing homeless people as dirty monsters creates a tidy scapegoat for our complex problems; it does not solve them.

Was Jolly using a weak reference to popular culture as hyperbole to make his point? Yes. Was he throwing homeless people under the bus in the process? Yes.

Every unhoused person in Santa Monica deserves respect, consideration, and help, just as every housed Santa Monican deserves a safe and healthy community. We cannot affect the change we need at the expense of other people.

And objectifying central stakeholders in the complicated effort to alleviate homelessness is unproductive as well as unkind. Crime, safety, sanitation, hygiene, healthcare, and treatment all warrant discussion. But depictions that conflate unhoused people with crime, filth, poor hygiene, addiction, and illness impede all of us by obscuring crucial factors like disability and economic inequality that underlie homelessness.

Jolly’s willingness to dehumanize this entire group of struggling people undermines any authority his practical suggestions may have indicated, because it betrays a poor fundamental grasp of these underlying issues.

And Jolly’s article was dehumanizing. Not just by comparing homeless people to dangerous, unnatural beasts, but by personally taking and using sensitive, compromising photos of unhoused people (with no identification or apparent permission or interview request). Jolly’s photos betray his disconnection from unhoused people, and by using the photos, Jolly reveals his willingness to objectify vulnerable people for his own ends.

Homeless people are not props. Using them as such robs them of their personhood and removes them from the conversation, denying the community vital insight into a complicated problem and reinforcing narratives that perpetuate homelessness. 

I say this as someone who was recently homeless for seven months due to complex, systemic barriers to housing in Santa Monica, including disability and source of income discrimination. I know firsthand that demonizing homeless people silences their diverse and useful voices. It prevents them from contributing valuable information, practical solutions, and more effectively redirected money and resources to the local community, harming everyone in Santa Monica—housed and unhoused.

It’s important to address Jolly’s fantastical and harmful misrepresentation of unhoused people because language and stories both reflect and reinforce our values and biases. Santa Monica deserves thoughtful, unbiased Housing Commissioners who help deepen our understanding of the complex problems we face, and facilitate lasting solutions. Jolly’s sensationalized fear-mongering reinforces our prejudices and distracts us from our goals; he’s not the representation Santa Monica needs.

—Michelle Gray, Santa Monica resident

in Opinion
Related Posts

Is the Big Housing Crunch Mostly Fiction?

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist In some parts of California, there is definitely a housing crunch: small supplies of homes for...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better & Not Necessary! – Part 2

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

The dream of our beachfront city is about to become a nightmare! Just imagine a tsunami of these projects washing...

Column From Santa Monica Mayor Himmelrich: We Walk the Talk

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

By Sue Himmelrich, Santa Moncia Mayor  I like the SMa.r.t. architects. I often agree with them. But in allowing Mark...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better!

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

It’s appalling to see what’s happening in our city – projects recently built or about to be approved – in...

Renting Your Second Home

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

If you are among the many Americans who own a second home that you occasionally use as a vacation getaway,...

Column: Cities Fight to Maintain Distinctive Characters

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist Anyone who knows California well will realize that Palo Alto does not look much like nearby...

SMa.r.t. Column: Gelson’s, Boxed-In

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

This week we are re-visiting an article from 2018 regarding the Miramar project, by simply replacing the word “Miramar” with...

Column: Are You Talking Yourself Out of Saving for Retirement? Here’s How to Break the Habit

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022

Saving for retirement can be an abstract concept. It’s something we all know we should do, but the farther away...

SMa.r.t. Column: Failure to Plan…

April 30, 2022

April 30, 2022

Over the last approximately two years your City has been busy trying to respond to new California laws that are...

Letter to Editor: Your “Standing Firm With Santa Monica” Initiative

April 25, 2022

April 25, 2022

The following is an open letter to Councilmember Sue Himmelrich from Santa Monica resident Arthur Jeon regarding a proposed transfer...

SMa.r.t. Column: Planning The Real Future

April 24, 2022

April 24, 2022

In the 1970s, renowned USC architecture professor Ralph Knowles developed a method for planning and designing cities that would dramatically...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan: The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 15, 2022

April 15, 2022

Part II: Who pays the proposed transfer tax and where does the money go? Last week, we introduced the proposed...

Column: NIMBYs Getting a Bad Rap

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

By Tom Elias Rarely has a major group of Californians suffered a less deserved rash of insults and attacks than...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan – The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

Part 1 of 2 In this two-part article, we will discuss both the proposed transfer tax ballot initiative and the...

Column: Tackling Childcare Costs

April 7, 2022

April 7, 2022

Finding affordable, quality childcare is essential for many working parents. The current shortage of care options is helping drive up...