LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) has released its 2020 homeless count and the numbers have gone up despite the city's sustained attempts to house the homeless. Now, against the backdrop of a nation protesting the killing of George Floyd, many are demanding the systemic racism that helps perpetuate homelessness come under new scrutiny.
The scars on Keith “Footie” Johnson's body come from his previous time on the streets of Milwaukee and Chicago. He has been in Los Angeles now for 20 years, in and out of temporary housing, and he says his current living situation is about to expire and he’ll have to start the process of looking all over again.
“I was hoping that within a year we would have been able to get these things worked out assigned to this. Well, here it is. The year is ending and nothing has been done,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who has also had his own experiences with prison systems in the past, has found it hard to secure work and housing. He says the system is frustrating.
“Now, people that's in a certain position to do things right are not doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing,” said Johnson. “They're picking and choosing who they want to help.”
Johnson, who is now an ordained minister, he calls himself the Prime Minister of Skid Row, has been actively involved in the Skid Row community’s Urban Voices Project. He says he hasn’t had so much as a parking ticket in the last 20 years, has been doing everything the system tells him to, but it hasn't been enough.
“There's no way I should still be afraid of being homeless in Los Angeles, with doing all the footwork that I've done, following every route that I’m suppose to follow. Doing every program to the “T” that I've been asked to do,” he said.
Since L.A. exploded with protests demanding justice and an end to racist police policies in the wake of George Floyd's killing, Johnson has been joining the protesters and is moved by the fact that all colors are turning out in solidarity.
“I felt like everything that I was doing, I had a right to be doing it,” he said. “It was time. I thought about how many times that the police have done that to me. I think how many times [the police] put their knee and my neck literally.”
Like many now, Johnson said part of the solution lies in not just reforming but reimagining our social structures, investing in community policing and making sure public funds go to the right people.
“Because I’ma tell you what's terrible,” he added. “To see someone that don't give a damn about our community, making all the money in our community, that hurts.”
Johnson said at this stage in life he is also looking to settle down with a partner, but it all hinges on having permanent housing.
“I wouldn't even get involved with someone in a serious relationship in the situation that I'm in,” he said. “And that sucks because I'm so ready for a serious relationship, you know.”
Johnson knows that building a family relies heavily on something many take for granted, stable housing. For the moment, he will have to put his dreams of finding someone on hold until he, and the system, can make that happen.