New murals and bus bench ads dotting Los Angeles include the same phrase: “Dear Neighbor.” More than a simple greeting, the Dear Neighbor campaign is designed to sway residents to get behind supportive housing projects for their homeless neighbors.
The $70,000 campaign is the brainchild of 72U, the creative “residency” of 72andSunny, an elite advertising agency that lists Google a client.
“We spoke with multiple homeless neighbors about what permanent housing could do to help them, to change their life,” says 72andSunny producer Catherine Roscart. “We tried to bring down these stereotypes and show that everybody’s someone’s mother, sister, father, brother.”
72U started using its resources last year to promote art that addresses social justice issues, such as immigration and mass incarceration. It launched “Dear Neighbor” on May 1, with the message, Rosecart says, that “we’re all neighbors.”
The Dear Neighbor campaign includes multiple murals and bus bench ads in Central Los Angeles and Venice. A large mural on Beverly includes quotes from homeless residents about how passersby can be cruel to them and how permanent supportive housing is a necessary step in treating the transient population, especially those with mental health issues.
For the project, the company worked with Showzart, an artist who lives in Skid Row. “He’s incredible. He helped us with the design,” Roscart says.
Showzart, 41, says he lost the home he was renting in 2015 after an extended legal battle stemming from false police charges against him. Despite the setback, he’s earned a reputation, including profiles in the Los Angeles Times, for his artwork.
When 72U expressed interest in working with a homeless artist for the Dear Neighbor campaign, people in Skid Row directed the ad agency to him. Before long, he, several other artists, and 72U were working on a concept for the murals for the campaign, initially called “Dear NIMBY,” Showzart says.
“We couldn’t get certain communities to agree or certain business to agree to putting that strong message on their walls,” he says. “They weren’t too comfortable with ‘Dear NIMBY.’ We changed it to ‘Dear Neighbor’ because the message is saying the same thing. Besides, if you’re a NIMBY, you know you’re a NIMBY.”
But even after they changed the greeting to one that was less controversial, Showzart said that certain businesses still didn’t want to be involved, which is why just two murals feature the “Dear Neighbor” campaign. Showzart, however, worked on a large mural on The People Concern building on Arlington Avenue. It took three weeks to complete. His art is also featured on bus benches in Venice.
Although he doesn’t consider himself homeless—he says the world is his home—Showzart called supportive housing for people living on the streets a “great program.”
“I have kids,” he says. “I have a fiancée. I pay bills. I pay my taxes.”
Although LA voters passed Proposition HHH in 2016 to fund housing for homeless Angelenos, many residents, from Sherman Oaks to San Pedro, have fought plans to build those homes in their neighborhoods.
Venice stands out as a community where tensions between advocates for the homeless and opponents for building housing for them have been ongoing for years. The Venice Stakeholders Association, made up of property owners, has raised more than $200,000 to try to prevent the city from building an emergency shelter at Sunset and Pacific avenues.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has suggested that residents who oppose supportive housing for homeless people are thwarting the city’s efforts to curb homelessness.
“We can point to the barriers we didn’t see coming: NIMBYism that’s slowed down projects… lawsuits focused more on keeping people’s stuff on the streets than how quickly we can move them indoors… a statewide housing crisis that hasn’t gotten any better,” he said during this year’s state of the city address.
The mayor’s office is one of the Dear Neighbor campaign’s partners, along with several housing groups. Another partner, social service agency The People Concern, has played a pivotal role in making sure that Dear Neighbor is seen by as many Angelenos as possible.
“We’ve had people contact us and say, ‘This is really great. ‘This is really cool,’” says CEO John Maceri. “They’re really interested. There has been a lot of positive feedback, and we hope this makes an impact on people.”
Maceri says he wants the campaign to challenge NIMBYs to better understand the role that permanent supportive housing plays in eliminating homelessness.
The People Concern is also partnered with FlyawayHomes, a builder of supportive housing that doesn’t rely on government funding or charitable donations for its projects. (Flyaway Homes and The People Concern recently won a $1 million dollar grant from the LA County Homeless Initiative’s Housing Innovation Challenge to build supportive housing at one- quarter of the cost per person of conventional affordable housing).
Without affordable housing, it will be impossible to stem the tide of homelessness, says FlyawayHomes COO Kevin Hirai.
“This whole Dear Neighbor campaign is for those NIMBYs who don’t understand the issue,” he says. “Let’s talk about what it is. The Dear Neighbor website has a series of [video] interviews with both housed and unhoused housed neighbors that’s very powerful. The people living in these communities—they’re not all severely psychotic, violent, or drug addicted. We have a lot of families. A lot of kids who are homeless.”
Greg Comanor, cofounder of Daylight Community Development, a real estate company focused on building housing for the homeless, characterized NIMBYs as a small but vocal group. That Angelenos backed Proposition HHH signals to him that most residents want supportive housing.
“There’s just a loud minority who gets very upset about these projects,” he says. “We really need to bring an educational lens to why this stuff is so important.”
Daylight Community Development is a Dear Neighbor partner and Comanor said that it shines a light on the people living on the city’s streets; they deserve housing just like any other Angeleno.
Roscart of 72U has one main goal for the campaign: influence community members to take action on homelessness.
“They said yes to Measure HHH,” she says. “Now, it’s time to say ‘yes’ to building something.”