Angelenos have heard a lot of politicians talking to them about the homelessness crisis in their city.
Faisal Gill is trying something different — he’s talking to the homeless.
Gill, one of the leading candidates for Los Angeles City Attorney, shared a new series of videos exclusively with Los Angeles magazine that features him talking to and hearing the stories of three different homeless people. He plans to make real solutions to the homeless crisis — and his refusal to treat the homeless as criminals — as one of the centerpieces of his campaign.
“I wanted to actually talk to the homeless people themselves,” Gill said. “We all hear about the homeless crisis and what we think caused it… but nobody actually goes and talks to them.”
The idea came to Gill when he went to Skid Row to get a tour from the late General Jeff Page, the former West Coast rap personality and unofficial mayor of Skid Row who died last month.
Gill met Page in May, and as the two walked Skid Row talking to people, Gill said Page told him “nobody comes and talks to these folks, no politicians actually come and talk to these people.”
“So I thought let’s highlight that,” Gill said. “There’s a lot of people who purport to want to help the homeless but very few are actually coming down here to try and understand [their] circumstances.”
The three videos feature three different kinds of homeless stories. One features a man who aged out of foster care but was unable to find additional services because of the pandemic. Another features a homeless veteran, and the other one features a mother and her young daughter.
Gill said that like so many concerned Angelenos, he thought of mental illness as the main driving force behind the city’s homeless crisis. But hearing these stories, he said, shed new light on the issue for him.
“It’s a very eye-opening experience,” Gill said. “I recommend that to anybody and everybody. Everybody who is in this arena needs to go out there and talk to the folks. It seems like such a simple idea but for some reason it’s not.”
The story of the woman and her young daughter especially left a mark on Gill, he said.
“I got little kids, man. I saw her and thought you gotta be kidding me. That’s crazy,” he said. “Looking at that child all I could think about was my little kids.”
But not talking to the homeless population and not appreciating the different circumstances that can lead to homelessness has created a situation where politicians are trying to solve a problem they don’t understand, he said.
“We’ve had eight years of ineffective solutions. We’ve spent lots of money on this problem… and one of the biggest things I’ve learned about being on the streets and talking to people is it’s a complicated problem and there is no one size fits all approach,” Gill said.
So what can a city attorney even do about the problem? First, Gill said, he will stop prosecuting homeless people as criminals.
Gill told the story of a man he met on the streets who has been arrested more than 70 times for crimes ranging from trespassing to loitering. Gill said that will stop on his watch, so people can spend their time and money on finding housing instead of paying court fees and fines.
“That is a very huge step to take,” he said. “[I’ll] tell city council members I will not treat them as a criminal. Refuse to do it. So now we actually have to find a solution. Last time I checked nobody got a house by going to jail.”
Gill’s plans and declarations are not the gambit of a longshot candidate with nothing to lose. Thanks to some self-financing, he is leading the field in fundraising. And has been burning up the trail with big-name endorsements, including this week when his campaign announced the endorsement of Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter.
That endorsement follows others from people like Karen Bass and Holly Mitchell, and even Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office successfully prosecuted Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
Other candidates for city attorney include Marina Torres, Kevin James, Hydee Feldstein Soto and Teddy Kapur.
Gill acknowledges that by making the homeless the centerpiece of his campaign he is breaking out of a political comfort zone. After all, the people complaining about the homeless in front of their homes or at local parks are more likely to vote than people trying to find shelter or food for the day.
Still, he says the way to ease the concerns of L.A.’s housed is to actually do something about the unhoused instead of just adding to the fear and anger as so many politicians have done before.
“It’s one of the reasons why we don’t have an effective homeless policy. We’re trying to figure out a solution to a problem that we don’t really understand,” Gill said. “And we can’t understand it until we go and talk to the folks who are going through it.”
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