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By Fernando Garcia


            Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, movie stars, and the homeless.  Homelessness in the United States is defined as:

(1) an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and (2) an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is— (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill); (B) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. (US Code, Title 42, Chapter 119, Subchapter I).

            Homelessness is a social problem throughout all of the United states. In 2004 an estimated 2.3 to 3.5 million people were homeless (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty 1). Los Angeles is known for being the home of the homeless, with a homeless population of 82,291(LAHSA 3), only recently passing San Francisco to have the highest homeless population in the United States. Many of the homeless aid efforts have been focused around sheltering and feeding today’s homeless and while this is a necessity, it is more important and imperative that the people experiencing homelessness are helped out of their current situation. Structural issues are the biggest problems and those which if fixed could do the most for the homeless. The key to solving the homeless problem of Los Angeles is creating a system in which the homeless are not only sheltered but also pushed towards getting jobs and becoming self-reliant.

            In order to help the homeless, we must first know who the homeless are. In a recent census conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority(LAHSA) the Los Angeles homeless were identified as being made up of 47,813 single men of which only 11%(5,270) are sheltered, 20,092 women of which only 12.6%(2,549) are sheltered and 1,088 transgender individuals of which only 4.7%(49) are sheltered. Of these 82,291 homeless 19,882 are part of a homeless family unit, of these families only 13.5%(2,680) are in shelters or transitional housing(LAHSA 5).

            Ethnically the Los Angeles homeless are disproportionate to the rest of Los Angeles. In Los Angeles there are 39%(LAHSA 5) African-American, as opposed to the 10.2%(US Census Bureau 1) of the entire Los Angeles population. 29%(LAHSA 5) of the Los Angeles homeless identified themselves as white, as opposed to the 51.6%(US Census Bureau 1) of the entire Los Angeles Population. 25%(LAHSA 5) of the Los Angeles Homeless are Hispanic, as opposed to the 49.7%(US Census Bureau 1) of the entire Los Angeles Population.

            Many of the Los Angeles Homeless should be receiving aid for past military service. In LAHSA’s recent census of homeless in Los Angeles 16% of the respondents reported to have served in some kind of military service in the past(LAHSA 6). In previous years there have been many studies done about homeless veterans. Many of these studies have found homeless veterans feeling that their “war experiences … are directly related to their homelessness. Bitterness is widespread among them”(Gottfried 81). These homeless people are in dire need of federal aid, which they are entitled to.

            Amongst the Homeless are the Chronically homeless. A chronically homeless individual is “an unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year”(HUD 1). This definition of the chronically homeless includes disabling condition was identified as a physical or mental disability, depression, alcohol or drug use, or chronic health problems. In a recent homeless count found that 49% of the Los Angeles homeless fall under chronically homeless(LAHSA 6).

            Homelessness across the country happens for different reasons and to very different people, the only real common factor amongst the homeless is poverty, yet from that point on why some become homeless and others don’t is greatly debated. The two main standing points are 1st: that individuals make bad decisions and are unable to manage the consequences and 2nd: that the federal government has provided inadequate services to aid those in need before becoming homeless. These viewpoints describe the homeless as either “lazy, shiftless, and prone to criminality, …[or] as victims of political and economic forces beyond their control”(Blau 33). Homelessness can be attributed to four main structural factors: “(1) lack of low-cost housing, (2) high poverty rates, (3) poor economic conditions, and (4) lack of community mental health care facilities”(Elliott 114). Lack of low-cost housing is the leading cause of homelessness, “those concerned with homelessness blame the shortage of low-cost housing on local, state, and federal policies”(Gottfried 62). With a lack of low-cost housing, it can be hard to pay for a place to live even with a steady job. Homelessness is not always caused by lazy people who are unwilling to work, but also by expensive housing which hard working minimum wage earners cannot afford, “the large gap between household income levels and local rent levels is considered to be a structural force that create a population at risk of homelessness”(Shlay 148). The Chronically homeless are increasingly common amongst the homeless following the US’s change in policy about the Mentally ill, “The plight of chronically mentally ill Americans today is a direct result of the nation’s twenty-year experimentation with ‘deinstitutionalization,’ the release from state-run asylums and return to their home communities of chronic mental patients”(Kosof 18).

            Homelessness has been seen throughout the world in many different societies and has been dealt with in very different ways. The two main standpoints on how to deal with homelessness are that (a) the government should not have to play any kind of role in it and private local charities should do what they can, or (b) that the government should be directly involved in helping the homeless through federal programs(Gottfried 85). There are three types of shelters, each helpful to the homeless but each serving very different purposes: emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent housing. Emergency shelters are self explanatory, in case of emergencies people can go to these, if there is room, which is usually not the case. These can be used for an overnight stay or as a daytime shelter, but “this approach is criticized because it is a temporary solution, often of poor quality, providing an unsafe environment frequently avoided by homeless persons”(Shlay 149). Even though this type of shelter is useful and necessary for emergency situations, it is not the solution to homelessness. Transitional housing is used for longer periods of time, through which an individual of family can hopefully get back on their own two feet. Transitional housing sometimes also includes services like child care, education, job training, counseling,  medical care and drug treatment. Transitional housing is important because it not only gives people a place to sleep at night but also “aid[s] homeless people in making the transition to permanent housing”(Shlay 149), which is ultimately the goal for any kind of aid. Permanent housing is the third and most valued housing for the homeless. Permanent housing usually takes the form of Single-Room-Occupancy and although highly effective and aspired to as aid, SRO’s have not been very common. SRO’s began disappearing in the late 1970’s.

“The transformation of the city economy from manufacturing to service industries created a demand for the upgrading of old housing stock. When urban professionals needed housing near the central business district, real estate developers initiated a process of gentrification that often targeted single-room occupancy(SRO) hotels”(Blau 75).

Permanent housing has become rare because “developing long-term, low income housing is confounded by the decreased availability of construction and rent subsidies, large building acquisition and rehabilitation costs”(Shlay 150). These kinds of shelters would be the most beneficial to the homeless but are the hardest to come by and create.

            Mississippi is an example of government help which at the same time helps those on the receiving end move get back on their own feet. Mississippi created a Work First program in which people on Welfare would have to spend thirty five hours a week in job training classes in order to keep their federal aid. This Program also worked with local employers who were encouraged to hire welfare clients by allowing them to pay only 1 dollar an hour for the first six months, while the government paid the workers $4.15 in order for them receive minimum wage. The results for this program were astonishing. Welfare cases in the areas where the Work First program was implemented dropped by 19% and new welfare applications dropped by 65%(Gottfried 88).

            In a completely different scene, Manhattan, New York City, there is a place called the Heights, one of the first Single-Room-Occupancy(SRO) programs to be created after their demolition in the 1970’s for use as hotels and apartments that would make more money, which had created a housing shortage(Kosof 80). The Heights is a hotel like place, in which various homeless from different backgrounds are able to live together in a permanent home, the first they’ve had since they became homeless. In this community like setting fifty five people are able to live once again like the rest of the Country does every night, “the heights is one permanent solution to an ever-growing problem-the shortage of housing for poor and low-income people. Some say that it is like a drop of water in the sea. Indeed it is”(Kosof 90).

            The key to the solution for the Los Angeles Homeless lies not in private charities but in federal run aid which give those which are entitled to benefits their aid and to those who want to rise out of poverty the help they need. In a place like Los Angeles, emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent housing are necessary in order to house the homeless. The emergency shelters will always be needed due to circumstantial reasons, but in should not be the goal of homeless aid to merely shelter the homeless. Shelters should be a base for recovering homeless who, with federal aid, are trying to get back on their own. We should try to get the homeless of the streets and help them get started so that they may eventually live on their own without federal aid.

            Los Angeles

            Homelessness is a topic which has been debated since it’s initial appearance, and there are some who say that it is not our duty to care for those whom some believe are “homeless, by choice”(Kosof 12). Some Homeless Studies have shown that placing homeless in transitional or permanent housing does not always end the problem, and the people end up back in shelters due to problems other than economic struggle. The issue isn’t in creating second chances for the homeless, it is in that some homeless simply do not care enough to improved their situation. Issues of Drug and Alcohol abuse have always been present in amongst the homeless and are usually self inflicted problems which society should not be responsible for, “drug addicts are regarded not as sick people, but as objects of scorn”(Gottfried 57). In a recent homeless count of Los Angeles conducted by LAHSA 35% of homeless have reported using drugs and 40% have reported using alcohol(LAHSA 8). Substance use is a personal choice that the individual must take responsibility for and some believe that issues involving such problems should not fall onto the society to mend. Alcohol has become one of the most commonly abused ‘drugs’ and has had a strong presence amongst the homeless. In a Chicago homeless study 33.2% of the homeless questioned reported have alcohol problems, and 10.1% of these same homeless reported to have had an alcohol problem big enough to interfere with their work(Rossi 156). Drug abuse has become a large issue in the United States and has had a large effect on the homeless, “some suggest that the arrival of crack cocaine in the mid-1980’s partially explains the increase of persons who have moved from precarious living accommodations to the streets”(San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless 81). Most people believe that giving money to homeless beggars will only further sink them into poverty because they will only use that money for drugs and alcohol.

            Some believe that homelessness is not a problem that stems from society. Some believe that it is up to the individual to raise himself out of poverty through hard work and perseverance, that “neither poverty nor homelessness will be cured by government handouts, but only by the individual taking steps to improve his or her own life”(Gottfried 85). Why should the rest of society pay for the mistakes of a few?

            Alcohol and drug abuse are high amongst the homeless yet it is important to know that these problems are usually not the cause of homelessness.

“Substance abuse may be the proximate cause of some homelessness, but the real cause lies in other underlying factors. People abuse drugs and alcohol because their economic and emotional needs are not being met. In any analysis of homelessness, it is theses factors, rather than the substance abuse alone, that need be addressed”(Blau 27).

Substance abuse is present amongst many homeless but it is not the reason for their homelessness and in few cases is it the direct cause for their homelessness. Alcohol and drug abuse usually occur after a person becomes homeless, “although substance abuse may reduce people to life on the streets, alcohol and drug use more frequently serve as a coping mechanism for enduring the boredom and trauma of living on the streets”(Criswell 47). The stereotypical homeless man is one who begs for money all day only to spend it on alcohol or drugs later that night, “the public perception that most homeless people are alcoholics or drug addicts may stem from the visibility of homeless people drinking, or behaving in an intoxicated manner. Such individuals easily attract the public’s attention, while homeless persons who do not drink or use drugs are often unseen”(San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless 80). Homelessness stems from things other than drug or alcohol abuse as well. Because a person is homeless does not mean that they do not work or try to improve their situation, homelessness is also caused by the lack of aid and the low minimum wage.

“Median monthly rents rose by 192 percent between 1970 and 1983 (from $108 to $315) while the monthly income rents rose by 192 percent during the same time period (from $525 to $1033). As a result, the rent to income ration rose so sharply that by 1983, 22 percent of renters paid 50 percent or more of their income towards rent”(Elliott 115).

Homelessness is not usually an issue of working hard or not, but of the difficulty of sustaining one’s self when there is very little opportunity, “unfavorable structural conditions exist prior to increases in homelessness, although personal problems may either determine who becomes homeless under unfavorable structural conditions or be the result of the stress of living without a home”(Elliott 116). The United States Government is now in a position in which it has the ability to aid those which need aid, “HUD today not only has the capacity, but is better positioned than ever to help communities take on the challenges of the 21st century”(Cuomo 94).

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