Courtesy of PRAXIS
PRAXIS: Are you a native Angeleno? Tell us a little about you.
MR-T: Okay, I’ll give you the condensed version. I was born at the White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, sixty-eight years ago. I was raised by my mother until her death at age 44 as a result of breast cancer. I was 9 years old at the time and was then raised by mother’s mother, who was blind. The church was the central institution in our lives—even more than schools. From elementary to secondary I went to public schools—all in Los Angeles. While an undergraduate student, I studied government, religion and the social sciences. When advancing to graduate school I focused in the area of ethics.
So, by the time I was first elected to the City Council in 1991, I had taught high school full-time for 5 years, taught part-time at several local colleges and universities, served for a decade as the full-time executive director of the local branch of SCLC, been married for nearly 12 years (now 43 years) with 4 year-old twin sons (and now three grandchildren).
Ultimately, I completed a PhD in Social Ethics in 1989. So I was already Dr. Ridley-Thomas before I became Councilman Ridley -Thomas in 1991.
PRAXIS: Why is homelessness/housing a priority for you?
MR-T: Based on my academic background and civil rights leadership background, it was critically important to address the defining moral crisis of this generation. It was indefensible not to do so. I viewed housing as a fundamental right in a democratic society—full stop! The lack of quality affordable housing denies human beings of their full measure of being human and it pulls them into impoverishment. Therefore, the lack of housing and the proliferation of poverty amounts to violence against at least nearly seventy-thousand souls in LA County alone. Leadership to me means thoughtfully acknowledging the severity of the crisis, making it a priority and leaning in—not walking away from it.
PRAXIS: Please talk about your approach to homeless policy and service delivery.
MR-T: I firmly believe that homeless policy must be based on a social service model of delivery and intervention. This would be in contrast to a law enforcement approach, which has proven itself incomplete at best and harmful at worst. I believe it is also fiscally imprudent to adopt an approach that says police officers are the first-responders to a homeless crisis. We must adopt policies and practices anchored in compassion and compliance that are informed by clinical insights, which recognize law enforcement as an important partner and a necessary last resort.
PRAXIS: What were you working on over the past eighteen months since you’ve been off the City Council to advance homeless services? Homeless policies? Housing?
MR-T: In October 2021, my homelessness team was busily working on a right to housing framework, a street engagement model, deepening mental health services and an exciting and innovative concept called Bridge Building. Work is being done on this now as it was introduced at the Empowerment Congress 31st Annual Summit in January of this year. Stay tuned for much more.
PRAXIS: Can others pick up your mantle and fulfill the objectives you mentioned to end homelessness?
MR-T: Yes. I must say that Mayor Bass has done an outstanding job in this regard. It just goes to show you what happens when a long-standing problem is treated as a priority. Noteworthy progress has been made and I pray that there will be more as the City and the County learn how to work together more effectively in addressing our deepening homeless crisis.
PRAXIS is funded by Mark Ridley-Thomas Committee for a Better LA