Home Moral guidelines Can you be a NIMBY and a Christian? Ex-Motown singer struggles with new homeless shelter

Can you be a NIMBY and a Christian? Ex-Motown singer struggles with new homeless shelter


The Bible has always been Larry S. Buford’s guide, but it put the former Motown singer-songwriter in a dilemma when he found himself defending his South Los Angeles neighborhood from development. invasive.

Buford has grown increasingly alarmed over the past two decades as he watches the single-family homes on his quiet block of Avalon Boulevard replaced by multi-story apartment buildings with insufficient parking.

The apartment buildings were intended for people who were poor, homeless, elderly or mentally ill. And the deeply religious 68-year-old, who has lived in Willowbrook for a quarter of a century, was in a dilemma: his personal values ​​clashed with his concern for his neighborhood.

And then he found himself in conflict with a spiritual brother: Reverend Andy Bales, head of Union Rescue Mission, the downtown Los Angeles homeless shelter that is committed to “embracing people with the compassion of Christ.”

It would be a test for Buford, who was drawn to Motown not just because he was born in Detroit, but because, he said, he saw it as an all-inclusive genre, advancing his own desire. of a diverse and peaceful world. .

A test for a man who loved his neighborhood, located about 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and who is particularly fond of a Bible verse that urges us all to “bring the homeless poor into your house.”


Buford signed with Motown in 1984, the day after singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye was shot by his own father. He worked for four years under the wing of Gwen Gordy Fuqua – the sister of music mogul Berry Gordy Jr. – and attended get-togethers at her Beverly Hills mansion and other locations with the likes of Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder.

After MCA bought Motown in 1988 and, it claimed, stopped supporting its artists, Buford left the label without a resounding success. But he continued his trade as his own publisher. For more than a decade, he struggled for a song that had a title, “Can’t Quiet My Soul,” Motown roots and unfinished lyrics striving for a universal anti-violence theme.

It happened when 26 people, mostly children, were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The massacre shocked the nation and freed Buford from his writers block.

“When President Obama said, ‘Our hearts are broken today,’ it went from there,” Buford said.

Larry Buford with Smokey Robinson.

(Larry Buford)

“I can’t rest for the pain, I can’t rest,” he wrote. “For the children who are dying, the children who are dying. I can’t calm my soul.

If you haven’t heard the ode to children who have died by gun violence, don’t worry. Buford recorded the moving song, but it was never released on a record label.

Buford moved to Los Angeles from his native Detroit in the 1980s. His stretch of Avalon Boulevard was one of those busy thoroughfares that is also lined on both sides by single-family homes.

Although it was divided by four lanes of traffic, it was the kind of neighborhood where the guy across the street with the mobile barbecue occasionally threw a feast for anyone who showed up.

“It was something you looked forward to,” Buford said.

He has worked as an office manager with a variety of companies ranging from sales to biotechnology. And he settled into a dual role: as a spiritually bent book author and a local journalist, writing about South Los Angeles in the LA Sentinel and other publications.

He calls his latest volume, Book to the Future, a faith-based account of how what we do today will affect tomorrow. He weaves together themes of eroding allegiance to the American flag and the Bible, warning, “The more we continue to lower God’s standards as set forth in the Bible, the deeper we fall into immorality.”

He also occasionally emailed other reporters to talk about the encroachment on his block of government-funded big-box residences for the elderly and homeless.

Larry Buford visits the Angeles House residential project for homeless families in South Los Angeles

Larry Buford tours the Angeles House residential project for homeless families in South Los Angeles, which opened on April 13.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

This concentration began around 2000, when a 42-unit seniors’ home rose up across from Buford’s house. In 2012, the barbecue man sold his property. A Community of Friends, a non-profit organization that builds and operates apartments for people with mental illness, announced plans to build all 55 Avalon apartments on the land.

Buford became involved with a neighborhood group that fought this project without success. He reported on the protest for the LA Watts Times, taking a decidedly NIMBY — not in my backyard — approach.

“In a neighborhood full of vagrancy and vagrancy,” he wrote, “where the police are more reactive than proactive, there are concerns even about the safety of the elderly and children who will pass by the complex to do shopping or going to school”.

The project was built anyway.

Eight years later, Buford’s protective instincts were awakened again when he learned that Union Rescue Mission, Skid Row’s venerable homeless service institution, was planning to build a family shelter at the corner of 132nd street.

The 86-unit building would fill the last open parcel on what was once a block of single-family homes, leaving only the Greater Pearl of Faith Baptist Church sandwiched between the shelter and the subsidized apartment building.

“How much can a community take? Buford asked, expressing his frustration in a 2020 email to The Times. “This unincorporated neighborhood already has weak infrastructure as we pointed out to them. There was no impact study on how it would affect us.

Street view of the Angeles House residential project for homeless families in South Los Angeles.

Street view of the Angeles House residential project for homeless families in South Los Angeles. Some local residents have complained of an overabundance of homeless housing projects in the neighborhood that take up too much parking space.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

This time, Buford took the lead, taking on Bales, the president and CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, at a 2020 community meeting he said he only heard about through the grapevine.

“As we mentioned to Andy, we are all for homeless housing, but at least we should have received the courtesy of advance notification,” he wrote to The Times. “The site will make traffic and parking even more congested here at 132nd and in Avalon.”


This meeting was the start of a dialogue that has continued from groundbreaking in 2020 for Angeles House to preparations for its grand opening in April. Buford told Bales of his concerns, the main one being the exemption from parking requirements that homeless housing projects receive on the assumption that few of their tenants own cars.

In an email exchange with Bales in March, Buford questioned that premise.

“Can you tell me how much parking space will be available for the Avalon Interim Housing Project? ” He asked.

“I believe 67, Larry,” Bales replied. “Should be more than enough for our staff and a few guests who will have cars.

Andy Bales, center, greets donors at the opening of Angeles House

Union Rescue Mission President and CEO Andy Bales, center, greets donors at the opening of Angeles House, a residential project for homeless families in South Los Angeles.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Buford quickly fired back.

“Unfortunately, that’s what we were told about the other property a stone’s throw from yours,” he wrote. “Our concern is that your tenants will also have friends and relatives visiting, and the parking lot will spill over onto Avalon Blvd, which will make matters worse. … Now people park in the alley; careless speeding; and there is no app. It is a dangerous situation.

“We’re known for the app,” Bales replied. “We’ll probably join you in making sure all the neighbors are respectful.”

The fact that Bales listened to him convinced Buford that he was not dealing with a “car salesman” who would be irrelevant as soon as the deal was closed.

“I think he’s someone who can move forward and would be a great partner to work with us,” he said.

Buford said he also feels the pull of empathy “born from my association with Chrysalis,” the downtown homeless services agency where he once worked.

“I always had a concern once my eyes were opened to the plight of the homeless,” Buford said.

He was also impressed that the project was completed in just over two years and without using a dollar of taxpayers’ money.

Buford attended the April 14 grand opening — as a fan.

On one visit, he responded to the cheerfulness of the building’s interior, with large common areas on each floor, private conference rooms, health and dental clinics, a large chapel, and amenities such as a hairdresser.

“My wife crochets,” he says. “Maybe she can volunteer.”

In fact, Loreen Buford was also impressed with the grand opening and the crowd it drew. “It’s been a long time,” she said, “that we haven’t seen so many whites in the neighborhood. »|

During the speeches, Buford cheered enthusiastically as Bales took the stage.

Bales has vehemently refuted the “harm reduction” philosophy, which he says allows drugs to circulate in government-subsidized housing. Programs based on harm reduction aim to keep people as healthy as possible even if they still use drugs and alcohol, for example by providing clean needles to stop the spread of disease. He also opposed rules that prohibit religious expression.

Then he read the scripture.

“Is it not fasting that I choose: … Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the poor homeless to you?”

Buford recognized the passage.

“Isaiah,” he whispered. “It’s one of my favorite verses.”

Afterwards, when the two met face to face, Buford made a few demands.

Could Bales use his influence to help him get speed bumps down the alley? And a crosswalk for people in the apartment walking around.

“With flashing lights,” Bales said.

“Flashing lights or something,” Buford said.

And there were other worries.

“Give me a list,” Bales said. “Let’s all work together on this.

Homeless families wait for a dedication ceremony at Angeles House.

Homeless families wait for a dedication ceremony at Angeles House.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)