If you live in Los Angeles then it is no secret that there's a huge homeless problem here. But do we really know how big the problem is? Moreover, are the people, places and things in charge of correcting our homeless situation really equipped to handle it? Or are they just making things up as they go along? One thing is for certain, we can no continue to blame homeless people for our homeless problem and we certainly shouldn't allow any person, agency, corporation, city, law or ordinance declare open season on homeless people.
More and more no matter where you go in the city of Los Angeles chances are that you will see signs that say "restrooms for customers only." even signs that read "dont feed the homeless". This past weekend while visiting Union Station for the 75th anniversary my friends and I wanted to find a place to sit to eat food we just purchased. However there was a sign that read "seating area for Amtrak and Metrolink ticketed passengers only. For passengers traveling within a two hour period." My friends thought it was there because of the anniversary, but when asked, the security guard posted at the blocked off seating area said "no this is always." When asked if this was simply an attempt to keep homeless people out of the station she proudly replied "yes it is"
It is estimated that there are more than 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, earning it the title of "Homeless Capitol of America" Reports have stated that families, seniors and veterans homeless numbers have gone up double digits in the last year. More than 20% of homeless families in Los Angeles are without any shelter, doubling numbers of two years prior.
Andy Bales, CEO of the Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission said to OnCentral "Los Angeles thinks it's sufficient to have less than one-fifth of the shelter beds actually needed." This would mean the estimated amount of shelter beds for the county to be about 12,000.
According to Bales in a recent interview on ABC Eyewitness Newsmakers, once the city began to focus on permanent supportive housing, the numbers of homeless people on Skid Row doubled. "there is no one size fits all approach to ending homelessness." He also said that he believes the numbers are far greater than 60,000 and that 90% of the people on Skid Row are from South Los Angeles.
"These are LA people, mostly from South LA and mostly African-American. It just shows you the plight that people from South LA face." Rev. Bales has called homelessness "the worst human disaster in the United States."
Former City Council member Jan Perry has long pushed the County of LA to fund year round shelters, but the resistance is far too great. "communities don't want to have homeless people in their neighborhoods" she said.
Even so called "supportive housing" misses the mark falling far short of ending homelessness in Los Angeles. While some agencies build SRO (single room occupancy) style housing that has been called "prisons with keys" by some residents, others are building actual apartments that help a homeless person restart their life, but many residents complain that the services they are supposed to receive end up being flyers and information they are fully aware of. Those with HIV living in shelter plus care units have stated while they pay for shelter (their apartment) there is no care that is supposed to be provided.
Once in housing, most will not complain because they live in fear of being thrown out. "I am the fish in the fish bowl. Plus I have a history of drug use. Aint nobody trying to hear a complaint from me. So I simply do the best I can at trying to keep them from stressing me out so bad I end up on crack again." one Skid Row resident told me about the "apartment" she lives in on Skid Row. "My RSC (residential services coordinator) is some white girl fresh out of college. I'm damn near 60. How the hell is she supposed to help me?"
"Our reality is that we were once homeless, drug users and such. We dont have the right to complain about poor conditions....at least that is how we are made to feel. They have the power to throw us out, so we better do as they say." another resident said.
Having lived through 29 months of homelessness, while fighting cancer and getting diagnosed with HIV during that time, I know all too well the horrors of Skid Row and people, places and things that slow things down and hold things up rather than helping you move through homelessness quickly.
Frederick Douglass once said "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
Until we start to question and hold accountable those who are supposed to be working to end the homeless situation and until we start to involve homeless people in the process, there will be no change in the amount of homeless people here and homelessness will continue to be a system of oppression.