This past weekend, I was driving through parts of South Los Angeles (formerly known as South Central) and Downtown Los Angeles as I was heading to my Saturday morning hike. Driving down South Grand Street I was in awe of the number of tents and cardboard structures that were serving as shelter for a portion of Los Angeles' growing homeless population. There was a huge boat parked on the side of the street covered by a piece of tarp. This is one of the more spacious and comfortable looking shelters. It became apparent that these sidewalk shelters were viewed as a luxury to some homeless people because it provided them with their own marked territory. Others homeless people can be found sleeping with a thin blanket and a few belongings on the cold ground beneath the awnings of closed businesses or on bus stop benches. I knew that Los Angeles had a horrible homeless crisis, but I was so surprised because a large number of the homeless population is not limited to iconic locations like Skid Row. A recent Los Angeles times article stated that there are "tens of thousands of people bedding down" on Los Angeles streets, so it does make sense these groups of homeless communities would be extending into nearby neighborhoods.
Juxtaposition of Two Worlds
This crisis on South Grand was just a few blocks away from USC, my alma mater and the education institution that is home to some of the most privileged children across the world. While teenagers are driving Porsches and spending hundreds of dollars on a weekend at Coachella, the Los Angeles community still struggles to provide a housing solution for the homeless. The juxtaposition of the images of extreme poverty alongside extreme wealth is referred to some as "unfair" and to others as "just the way the world works".
A Community Crisis
The stretch of tents, boats, and cardboard boxes along South Grand Street is becoming a more common image along the streets of Los Angeles, mostly in downtown Los Angeles and in the neighborhoods of lower-class minorities.
I think most people agree that homelessness is an issue, but people have different ideas on how to approach it. Some people feel that there is nothing they can do about the problem since it is so big and they have their own issues to deal with. Unfortunately, other people view homelessness as an issue that does not affect them. As Los Angeles and other big cities across the nation continue to evolve and invest in new construction projects that will help attract new people and businesses that can contribute to local economies, projects to reduce the amount of homelessness continue to lag. As the price of housing continues to rise in California, the number of people forced to live on the streets continues to soar. Without any active solutions to decrease the number of people sleeping on the street, the number of people in our communities with untreated drug abuse and mental health issues continues to rise as well. Providing stable housing and services to the 34,000 homeless people in Los Angeles would greatly improve the quality of the entire city. If people who don't live or work near these large camps of homeless people think that homelessness is an issue that does not directly relate to them, they are grossly overlooking how interconnected all communities are. We can't wait until the tens of thousands of people reach our own neighborhoods before we start treating this like the crisis that it is.
Propositions v. Action
As is mentioned in the Los Angeles Times article that I referenced above, Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced a new program called "A Bridge Home" where he plans to commit $20 million for emergency shelters. Additionally, Proposition HHH is a $1.2 billion voter-backed bond that will help build supportive housing over the next 10 years. This proposition was approved by LA voters in 2016. We now see large amounts of funding being directed toward the implementation of plans to assist Los Angeles' homeless crisis, but we have yet to see any major results. With the combination of short and long-term resources for addressing homelessness, it is expected that we will see results in the near future. I personally am looking forward to seeing the results of these new programs. It's important to remember that these various propositions have not yet created any positive change, so we must remain vigilant and continue to force city leaders to take this homelessness crisis seriously.
What Can You Do?
Whether you have only a couple hours to spare or are interested in taking on a larger role in helping to resolve the homelessness crisis, there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved and help make a positive difference.
"I only have a few hours to spare, but I want to help make a difference."
In most major cities, there are a number of homeless shelters and missions that provide food to people living on the streets. You can volunteer a few hours of your time to one of these organizations to show your support. Additionally, there are some churches in different cities that provide shelter to homeless people, and they are always looking for volunteers to donate food or time.
"I am able to dedicate more time to the homelessness crisis and I want to take on a larger role."
If you are looking to be more involved with the development and implementation of policies to combat the homelessness crisis, it would be best to start by researching which policies are in place or being discussed in your city. California legislators will continue to propose legislation to address homelessness, so writing letters of support or opposition to them helps make a difference. A quick search of the California Legislature reveals that there are currently 209 bills for the California 2017-2018 legislative session mentioning "homeless". If you are able to travel to Sacramento for hearings, showing up at those is another great opportunity to share your voice and demonstrate that this is an issue that you care about.