Homelessness in Los Angeles, California

by Cynthia Solorio

Homelessness is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as the state of having no home. In our "Western society" we are biased towards individuals who are without a home. We believe in myths and misconceptions that lead us to view homelessness through prejudice lenses. We view the homeless as lazy alcoholics, drug addicts, mentally ill, and uneducated. When we categorize this group of individuals into boxes and give them labels, we wrongly judge based on a stereotype without knowing the story behind their homelessness. Unfortunately, people who have to live their lives out on the streets to sustain themselves are penalized for occupying public spaces, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. As a result, homeless people are in an endless state of vulnerability to violence and harassment by the police and greater authorities that prohibit things such as sleeping on a bus stop bench, as stated by "The Suitcase Clinic". Solutions to this worldwide recurring state of living, aren't simple nor easy to find, but we cannot ignore this. Abusing and harassing people in need of help is not the solution. Focusing on eliminating the criminalization of homelessness, as suggested by The National Coalition for the Homeless, and proposing alternatives to protect their civil rights and providing programs that will assist and help them solve the issues they are facing is important. We have to reverse the untouchable identity given by the prejudices of our society to those who have no home.

What causes this tragic state of living you may ask? There are a number of causes. One of the causes is poverty. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2014 the poverty rate was 14.8%, a estimate of 46.7 million people. Unfortunately, lack of employment and a decline in public assistance are major factors that are increasing poverty, as stated by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Other factors include, lack of affordable health care, domestic violence, and addiction. Due to these many causes, the result is homelessness. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2.5 to 3.5 million American people sleep in shelters, public spaces, and alternative housing every year. Narrowing it down, according to the Housing and Urban Development's Point-in-Time Survey, in January 2013, California was said to account for 22% of the homeless population in the United States. Roaming the streets of Los Angeles, California are 254,000 homeless men women and children, according to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at Weingart Center. But there are even more disturbing trends than this figure.

In Los Angeles, California, public authorities are penalizing homeless people for living in public spaces such as parks, bus stations, and streets. The criminalization of homelessness, according to the website nationalhomeless.org, "...refers to measures that prohibit life-sustaining activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or asking for money/resources in public spaces." Recently, according to the article, "The Crime of Living Without a Home in Los Angeles", the city council of Los Angeles voted 14-1 to come into effect. What 14-1 did was make it easier to confiscate possessions of homeless people by making the the notice of confiscation to 24 hours, giving them less time to evacuate. The solution to this problem, as stated by Eric Ares, organizer for the Los Angeles Action Network and advocate for homelessness, is the increase of housing and services. In addition, the act of criminalizing the homeless is counter productive.To justify this, Los Angeles spends more than $87.3 million in "combatting" homelessness. Furthermore, 15.000 homeless people were arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2013. The city is investing money in getting the homeless off streets and then providing no alternative housing. It cost way less to house someone in need of a home than it does to ruthlessly criminalize them as proven by Salt Lake City.

As seen in the article, "This City Cameā€¦ Housing" produced by "The Nation" website, Salt Lake City carried out a program of housing people. As a result, the number of people living on the streets decreased to 72%. Los Angeles, as suggested by the article "The Crime of Living Without a Home in Los Angeles", is making it a crime and illegal to be poor, to have no home and nowhere to go; with no other alternatives and no hope.The act of using up all the cities energy and resources to criminalizing the homeless is plain cruelty. Instead of helping those in need, we are making their lives more complicated and difficult. The city is fining and giving criminal records to the homeless, making it more difficult to get employed or become re-housed. If we provide more help to those who are in need, our community would become a better place. A place where someone is not defined by poverty and homelessness. Where no one gets left behind.


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