An Interview with Blogger Jemayel Khawaja

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Jemayel Khawajais an anthropologist who runs the blog DTLA Street People which is about homelessness in LA; here is a link to his site:

http://dtlastreetpeople.tumblr.com/

 

 

 

Q:  What inspired you to start your website?

A: I recently completed a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and was looking for an avenue to put my studies to use. I moved to downtown Los Angeles and was taken aback at firstly the amount of street people and the attitude that most maintain towards them. The homeless in Los Angeles are a unique mix of highly visible and invisible and in that liminal space they are able to see a side of humanity that most prefer to ignore. I just felt compelled to learn more.

Q:  What is the most misunderstood thing about homelessness?

A: People tend to paint ‘the homeless’ with a single brush and project their own ideas onto who these people in the street actually are. Every individual is different and is in the situation that they are for different reasons. Some of those you see on the street aren’t even homeless. Some have never taken drugs in their lives. Our assumptions are often misleading.

Q:  What is the most common mistake people make that leads to homelessness?

A: All of us make mistakes and poor choices. Many of the homeless just live without a safety net to catch them when they do. A lot of us have family and friends to fall back on if we run upon hard times. Many of the homeless don’t. I don’t think most people who are successfully participating in society stop to realize how fragile their lives actually are.

Q: Do you think The LAPD are fair to the homeless? (why ore why not.)

A: Yes and no. Some cops are nice guys. Some cops aren’t. In terms of policy, though, no. It isn’t just the LAPD, though, it is law enforcement in general, cultural attitudes and city ordinances that can negatively affect the lives of people who live their lives on the street. The way that things are now, public sleeping laws and police harassment are commonplace in most parts of town, but all bets are off on Skid Row. Anything goes. That’s become the way to deal with the homeless population — squeeze them all into as small of a place as possible, let them do their thing and hope that the problem fixes itself before the developers inevitably come calling to turn Skid Row into apartment buildings and cupcake bakeries.

Q:  Who do you think has been your most compelling interview subject? (why)

A: I had known Andre for a long while at the time of interviewing him. I think he was the most compelling mostly because he breaks type with conceptions most have of the homeless. He’s intelligent, engaging and there by choice. He’s so talkative that he pretty much interviewed himself.

Q:  What can Angelenos do to help fight homelessness?

A: That’s a difficult question because there are many types of homelessness. I think the most important things are housing, jobs, and addiction treatment programs. What we have to understand is that if somebody is not mentally prepared to drag themselves out of the mire, then all the houses and jobs in the world won’t do anything for them. A lot of people on Skid Row have given up and the atmosphere there allows them to live the shell of a life that they’ve grown accustomed to. What the homeless need aren’t handouts but opportunities.

Myself included, I think a lot of us doing a little more to help any sort of charitable organization would go a really long way. That is a notion that I would like people to take away from this writing project.

Q: . What is the most realistic film or television show you have ever seen about homelessness?

A: I thought Hobo With a Shotgun was really bad.

Q:  What sort of professional background do you have and how does it effect your perception of homelessness?

A: I have an academic background in social anthropology and I just have an itch to write. To be frank, i’m not on a crusade to end homelessness or judge anybody’s attitudes. I’m more interested in chronicling life histories and learning about the social politics of life at that rung of society.

 

Q:  What is the most critical thing a person can have for surviving life on the streets?

A: Either hope or the lack thereof. If you have hope, determination and desire, you can get off the streets by making your own opportunities. The smarter guys around the neighborhood are always doing odd jobs here and there for local businesses. On the other hand, if someone’s lost hope or never had it, they probably don’t care so much about attaining the ideal middle class life or whatever reality that they refused to buy into the first time around. There is a dull apathy to the ‘career homeless’. A lot of these people are stuck somewhere in between hope and hopelessness. They enjoy some aspects of homelessness, what they refer to as a ‘freedom’ and know that they’ll be held from the brink by Mission beds and free meals. Unfortunately, there are strings attached to both lifestyles.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

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