29 June 2013

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County skyrocketed to 58,000, according to a story in today’s Los Angeles Times. The figure marks a 16% increase over the past two years, due to lingering effects from the recession and rising rents.

Several times this year my Causes & Effects daily money has gone to a homeless person that I’ve met outside a store or on the street, including yesterday, when I gave to a man named Daniel. Of all the men and women I’ve given to and talked to, only one struck me as mentally ill. The others were perfectly lucid as far as I could tell. There was no difference between them and me except for I simply had better luck and a safety net if I needed one. 

The 58,0000 number is bleak enough, but the article goes on to say it may get worse in this relatively jobless economic recovery: More than $80 million in federal funds for emergency housing disappeared last summer and the sequestration has frozen federal housing vouchers, so more and more people are losing the roof over their heads. Plus, 15,000 low-level felons were diverted to LA County facilities and many of them have been released with no housing to go home to.  The homelessness lags behind all the bad news because people use up all their resources before turning to living on the street. 

The confluence of events that conspire to keep people in Los Angeles also includes tremendously high unemployment: LA County’s rate was 11.2% in 2012, among the nation’s highest. Plus, the recession  led to an 8% drop in emergency shelters because they no longer had the funds to operate. There are around 16,000 beds for all of the homeless in Los Angeles.  Combine that with the fact that because the economy is improving in certain sectors, rents have increased which puts apartments out of reach for many, even if they have jobs. 

Now when I read stories about the homeless, I put actual faces to the story: Daniel from yesterday: Willie from earlier this year, Michael from May, Cheryl from April... and a number of others. I worry about them in this heat. Willie is the only one I’ve seen again since I gave him money. He was in a motorized scooter and for weeks I didn’t see him in his usual spot, but then a few weeks ago, I saw him from a distance rolling down the street. I felt a sense of relief that he was still safe.

Los Angeles is a great city, but a city is truly only as good as its poorest and disenfranchised and Los Angeles simply has to do better. 

According to the Los Angeles Youth Network, which works with homeless youth, there are more than 9,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles. You don’t need to use your imagination much to realize what life is like for them and what they must resort to to get food and shelter. 

LAYN operates emergency shelters, group homes, and transitional housing, as well as provides a multitude of services for homeless youth, including reunification therapy for teens and their parents.  

Today’s $10 goes to LAYN because 9,000 homeless teens in the whole country is 9,000 too many, forget about for one county.

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