Roy and Henderson on Warring Perceptions of Life on the Streets

The Los Angeles Times published an extended conversation between two key figures at the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy that revealed the growing solidarity between movement-based scholars and unhoused public intellectuals as Los Angeles grapples with the crisis of homelessness. Ananya Roy, the institute’s executive director, spoke with Theo Henderson, this year’s UCLA Activist-in-Residence, about warring perceptions about life on L.A. streets. What city officials call “cleanups” of homeless encampments are actually dehumanizing sweeps of people and their belongings that do not provide lasting housing solutions, said Henderson, founder of the podcast “We the Unhoused.” “They’re doing it because the public does not want to see poor people,” he said. The two spoke of art as a tool for empowering Los Angeles’ diverse network of community advocates. “We need creative releases to be able to keep the movement going, the spirits up, the morale up and to hope for a better day,” Henderson said.


‘COVID Compassion Is Over,’ Roy Says

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D), spoke about her research on urban poverty from Los Angeles to Kolkata, India, as the featured guest on the podcast “J.T. the L.A. Storyteller.” Roy spoke of the expiring protections for people who have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s not that the pandemic is over. But COVID compassion is over,” she said. Roy also described II&D’s research partnership with activists working on behalf of the unhoused, which emerged after authorities in Los Angeles cleared an encampment at Echo Park Lake in March 2021 — “really a searing moment in L.A.’s collective memory,” she said. Roy described Los Angeles as a “battleground that makes visible the forced removal of people of color,” but she added, “L.A. has also been a place where communities have fought for their future. … That’s a very inspiring part of L.A. movement histories that continue until today.”


Roy on Lessons From the Echo Park Lake Eviction

Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D), co-authored a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed on lessons from the clearing of Los Angeles’ Echo Park Lake encampment a year ago. “The ruse of forcing people off the streets and into so-called housing is becoming a blueprint for displacement in California cities,” the authors wrote, cautioning San Francisco’s leaders to learn from grave mistakes made in Los Angeles. The op-ed is part of widespread media coverage of a recent II&D report on the aftermath of the mass eviction at Echo Park Lake. On Spectrum News’ “Inside the Issues,” Roy spoke about how to work toward solutions to L.A.’s crisis of homelessness. “We can move forward by recognizing that the criminalization of poverty does not help,” she said, adding that building permanent housing and keeping people in their homes after pandemic-era renter protections expire are also crucial.

Fight for Housing Continues a Year After Sweep of Echo Park Lake

A new report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) on the continued fight for housing a year after the sweep of a homeless encampment at Los Angeles’ Echo Park Lake has garnered widespread media coverage. The report found that, of the 183 people removed from the encampment, only 17 are currently confirmed to be in long-term housing. “Politicians very loudly claimed that all displaced residents would be in stable permanent housing within a year,” II&D Director Ananya Roy said at a news conference. “Echo Park Lake has become both the exemplar and blueprint of this kind of displacement.” The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, KCRW, KQED, CBS Los Angeles and LAist are among the outlets that covered the report. Roy told the Guardian that, when sweeps are the driving force of policy, outreach efforts are doomed to fail. “The few times we’ve seen success is when people get housing through their own community networks.”


Roy on Court-Ordered Psychiatric Care for the Unhoused

Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy spoke to the Guardian about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed Care Court program, which would force some unhoused people with severe mental illness and addiction disorders into psychiatric treatment. The plan aims to address the growing issue of homelessness in Los Angeles by requiring people with serious mental health issues to accept treatment and also mandating that counties provide services. However, the proposal has received backlash from disability rights and civil liberties advocates. Roy, who serves as director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, said the court proposal is part of a trend in California of criminalizing the unhoused. “There is seemingly a lot of compassion for the unhoused, but that is coupled with a deliberate and enforced state of stripping the unhoused of rights in the name of saving them and doing good,” Roy said.

L.A. Road Trip Reveals Enormous Wealth, Astounding Poverty

In the premier episode of “On the Road to Change,” Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D), takes viewers on a drive through Los Angeles’ wealthiest and most impoverished areas to illustrate the region’s entrenched housing injustices. In the video produced by the Goethe-Institut and Thomas Mann House Los Angeles, Roy and German philosopher Rainer Forst visit a mega-mansion on the market for hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when hundreds of thousands of Angelenos face eviction as pandemic-era renter protections expire, according to II&D research. In a conversation blending policy strategies with linguistics and economic philosophy, Roy and Forst explore the complexities of providing housing relief in a place of enormous wealth and beauty but also astounding poverty and misery. Their journey ends in Skid Row, where Pete White, founder of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), shares the grassroots group’s strategies for bringing about housing justice.

Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)


Activist-in-Residence on Goals at UCLA

Theo Henderson, host of the podcast “We the Unhoused,” spoke to KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” about his goals as the newly named UCLA Activist-in-Residence. Hosted by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Henderson hopes to help educate “our future generation of leaders to make the right calls on dealing with the unhoused crisis.” Henderson offers a personal perspective on policies aimed at addressing Los Angeles’ growing housing crisis. “Too often, the people who are leading the conversation have little to no experience in being unhoused,” he said. “They have repeated the same disastrous solutions and the same harmful narratives.” Henderson’s podcast has given him a platform to reach a homeless population in search of information about how to find shelter and stay safe, as well as prominent L.A. officials who tune in regularly. “I wanted people to learn that the world is not the same for housed people as for unhoused people,” he said.

Changing the Unhoused Narrative, One Story at a Time L.A.-based educator and podcast host is chosen as Activist-in-Residence by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

By Stan Paul

Theo Henderson, the founder of the “We the Unhoused” podcast and himself a person who has experienced homelessness for several years in Los Angeles, has been raising awareness of the unhoused for the last two years on his podcast. For the next few months, he’ll lend his experiences to UCLA as Activist-in-Residence at the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, said that through his work, Henderson has already had a significant impact on the public’s understanding of homelessness in Los Angeles.

“Rooted in his own experience of becoming unhoused, his podcast is a decisive intervention in how we understand housing insecurity and housing solutions,” said Roy, also a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “Mr. Henderson constantly draws our attention to the structural causes of poverty, including racism, and reminds us of the social and policy shifts needed to address such issues.”

Now in its fifth year, the program based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs brings artists, activists and public intellectuals to campus in an effort to further academic understanding of social justice issues such as housing. “[Henderson] joins an illustrious set of previous Activists-in-Residence and was selected for this appointment from among an exceptionally strong pool of applicants,” Roy said.

Henderson said his podcast was small but effective in its early stages — and, literally, a grassroots effort.

“I created ‘We the Unhoused’ living out in the park, and I wanted to uplift the stories of unhoused people in a larger setting,” said Henderson, who has been recording his podcast interviews and commentary on his cellphone. “Many of the institutions of higher learning are not really plugged into that kind of conversation from the lived experience experts.”

Originally from Chicago, Henderson, 48, is college-educated and had a job as a schoolteacher in Los Angeles at the time of the Great Recession. A medical crisis and loss of his job were followed by eviction and search for stable shelter. He ended up unhoused and living in a park.

Henderson, who has spoken to classes and in other academic settings, including several times at UCLA, says one of the central “civil rights issues of our time is houselessness.”

A major problem with the narrative around housing issues is that it has been — and remains — guided by people who are housed, Henderson said.

“It is erasing unhoused people from view. That experience motivated me to tell my story on my own terms and give voice to the voiceless,” he said.

“I emphasize different things that are really important or because of what I’ve seen with mainstream news,” Henderson said. An example would be a crime story that involves an unhoused person, whether a victim or otherwise, in which “housing status became a little large in the headlines.”

He wanted to push back. So, Henderson launched his podcast, just prior to the pandemic.  COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem and made it more difficult for the unhoused, he said.

“I made it a point to make different podcasts about experiences of the unhoused during COVID because people forget that, when shelter-in-place happened, the world literally stopped,” he said. “It’s a real situation. I think the world needed to know. But COVID happened … you forget about the unhoused; they have to survive as well.”

At UCLA, Henderson said he hopes to utilize the academic setting and his residency to open the door to more active, mobile research methods and see how theories play out in real-world scenarios.

Henderson is also looking to impart knowledge that can be applied to settings that he might not otherwise be able to access, including business, politics and higher learning. He also plans to engage with students through workshops and class discussions, as well as participating in community events and visiting sites both on and off the campus.

In his application for the residency, Henderson wrote, “Students have the power to make change, but they need to be armed with the necessary knowledge to do so. In order to make an impact, future leaders need to build connections with people dealing with the realities of houselessness.”

“Mr. Henderson is a lifelong educator. He has not allowed the condition of becoming unhoused to end his teaching. Instead, he has created new pedagogies that reflect the condition of being unhoused,” Roy said. “I anticipate that he will be a terrific educator for UCLA Luskin faculty and students.”

It’s an honor to be chosen as the next Activist-in-Residence and to return to the UCLA campus, Henderson said. “I’ve been there so much. I used to joke, ‘I might as well have a spot here.’ ”

The Failure of American Housing and the Rise of Tenant Power

In his latest book Professor Andrew Ross exposes the overlooked housing crisis sweeping America’s suburbs and rural areas, where residents suffer ongoing trauma, poverty, and nihilism. As an unhoused Angeleno, 2022 UCLA Activist-in-Residence Theo Henderson will bring his first hand experience to the conversation while also lifting up the voices of the unhoused community of Los Angeles as he has done in his podcast “We the Unhoused.”

Moderated by:

  • Hannah Appel, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Global Studies and Associate Faculty Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
Chaired by:
  • Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography and inaugural Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.