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Homelessness in Los Angeles: A Racial Issue

Los Angeles, the city of palm trees, sunshine, and median temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit, has experienced somewhat chillier temperatures and heavy rains this winter. Regardless, L.A. is still a place many people want to move to.

The false hope to become a Hollywood star leaves many on the streets and representing broken dreams. While this scenario is familiar to “Hollywood,” the sad aspect of the homeless epidemic in L.A. is that the majority of homeless people are of African-American descent. Many are veterans, and teenagers who got kicked out because they’re LGBTQ, or left because they came from broken homes.

Lack of job opportunities

“You can see in that [transgender] population, there’s a big bump in homelessness. Because a lack of job opportunity, because there’s just a stigma around their community. You do see an increase in that,” said Anthony R. Conley, community involvement coordinator with The Covenant House. “You may see a higher percentage of African-Americans, you don’t see as much as Whites, but we do have it.”

According to a survey done by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), 14 percent of the people who are homeless in L.A. became homeless outside of California first.

“A lot of people come here from other states, and they’re sleeping in their car, and they have to figure out how to make ends meet to survive,” said “E-3,” a veteran and former homeless individual. “Rents are just too high. Unless you’re getting some type of government assistance, you are basically left to struggle, you are basically on your own.”

The LAHSA report shows how structural racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias in housing, employment, criminal justice, and child welfare policies have led to overrepresentation of Black people who experience homelessness.

Black people make up to nine percent of the population of L.A., but more than one-third of its population is homeless. To end homelessness, it will require a collective commitment to address racial disparities.

‘Donations’ and ‘Fundraising’ In Hollywood

On the exit of the 101 freeway and Van Ness, sits “E-3” with his red bucket to collect “donations” or how he calls it “fundraising.” As an African-American, and former homeless individual, he has quite some stories to share.

“I got out of the military in ‘86, worked a series of jobs, then in 2000 my grandmother got sick, and we had to sell the duplex and I found myself with no place to live, so I was residing in my car,” E-3 said. “And next thing I know I was gravitating to the Hollywood area, and meeting other homeless people. I was lucky, cuz [sic] I managed to find shelter in abandoned buildings, and for about three or four years I was residing in the back of a Carl’s Junior off of Sunset and Western.

I went back to school, while I was homeless.”

The 58-year-old has been homeless for 15 years, he said. And recently got approved for a two-bedroom apartment in Inglewood, that he waited on for eight years.

“I was able to secure a place to live – where I reside now, but there’s still the issue of not getting a back-pay from the government,” E-3 said. “One of the biggest problems of homlessness is the agencies turn their backs on their clients, and they don’t work together at all. Everybody goes out and does their own thing.” He said, it’s hard to get out of the “homeless mentality,” as he calls it. It’s all about survival. How to make a dime, where to get the next meal.

“When you’re on the streets,” he said, “your belongings aren’t yours anymore.”

He’s been attacked a few times, while he was roaming the streets. These incidents were reported to the LAPD, without any success in finding the attackers. Many times he got arrested or harassed by the cops. He said racial profiling is still a thing, and the homeless get treated like the outcast.

“When I was homeless in Hollywood, the LAPD would ride up and tell me I couldn’t be there, and put me in handcuffs, and ask me if I was on parole or probation. That was like a regular, recurring incident of 15 years of homelessness,” E-3 said. “I’ve got labeled a chronic complainer. […] and from that day, they don’t take any of your concerns or allegations seriously.”

The South L.A. native doesn’t represent the stereotypical homeless person. E-3 is well-spoken, clean, and intellectual. He’s not a drug addict or an alcoholic. He said the homelessness epidemic will remain, and that city officials don’t want to change it. If that was the case, he said, they would have done so by providing mobile showers, soup kitchens, and mobile health care.

An ‘ingrained pattern’ “There’s not proper adequately classification of the individual’s wants and needs. […] So a lot of people basically have been given up and chosen to live on the streets,” E-3 shared. “It’s basically an ingrained pattern, it’s very, very difficult to erase. When I got my house, I was just basically looking for a corner to crawl up in and go to sleep. The idea of having running water, electricity, a front door and a back door, that was completely foreign to me. I had to adapt to the situation and the circumstances.”

He also feels, homeless veterans don’t get much help in a city like L.A. “I talked to some people and they told me about going to the V.A. [Department of Veterans Affairs] to get into the HUD-VASH program,” E-3 said. “I was very, very skeptical because the treatment that I received was not very fair compared to another guy that was homeless in Hollywood where the worker was more sympathetic, kind, and helpful to him, and I was just basically given a cold shoulder, but the information I was given, I took and I ran with it.

“I was encouraged by an outreach worker to go there [West L.A. Department of Veterans Affairs] and everything will be taken care of, then I found out it was just a catastrophe. A lot of stuff was out of order and it took an unnecessarily long time to get a housing voucher, and assistance, and aid.”

A data collected in 2018 shows that homeless veterans have decreased (18 percent fewer homeless vets – 3,910, down from 4,800 in 2017), however, homeless veterans still exist and need proper assistance.

As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, the city of Los Angeles promised more housing for homeless people, but many neighborhoods are behind. Jobs and housing are hard to get a grip on, it’s like the city offers them, just to do their job, and even if people – such as E-3 – are qualified for them, the employers wouldn’t hire him because he doesn’t fit the profile, as a Black homeless man, E-3 said.

Still in Hollywood, where most of the younger homeless population hangs out, is the Covenant House. A non-profit shelter that caters to the homeless- and trafficked youth.

“That’s what makes the Covenant House – It’s not necessarily like [sic] the building,” Conley said, “but the people who like support it [sic] and do the program and dedicate their lives and help the situation.

“At our current facility here, we have a ‘Safe Haven’ program that serves 64 youths. On the other side, it’s called ‘Rights of Passage’ which is like a two-year program, serves 24 youths. We have 88 beds, but it can still fluctuate every night. Between 88 to 100 youth sleeping here at the Covenant House each night.”

Work of Covenant House

For 30 years, and five days a week, the Covenant House sends their outreach teams to teenagers who are roaming the streets to provide them with hygiene kits, food, and water, as well as to get them to come inside, at least for one night. Most teens don’t hesitate, a roof over the head and security sound better than to camp out on the cold concrete and go to sleep with one eye open.

“That’s like the bread and butter of what we do too,” Conley said. “Because without the awareness of what we do here, some of the youth wouldn’t end up here. They’re on survival mode. They just want to be independent. But when they see that Covenant House van roll up, they know that they’re people looking out for them.”

To cope with disappointments and emotional distress, many of the teens at the Covenant House turned to drugs while they were on the streets.

“We have ways we can help them to detox, we have wellness counselors, so all this is here,” Conley said. “[…] and that’s important because you just can’t turn someone away because he’s a user. Like they need help, so how can we help them. We want those people off the streets.”

Although the Covenant House provides a loving environment with a sense of stability and emotional support, which could be considered a rehabilitation housing that preps the homeless youth, between the ages of 18 – 24, to become a part of society as an adult and better their lives, it also strongly relies on donations and volunteer work, in order to keep up the good work and the standards of the facility. For more information, and how to help go to https://covenanthousecalifornia.org/

“We offer career services, internship opportunities, job placements, we have a whole career center that offers that,” Conley said. “And after that, we’ll help them get housing outside of the Covenant House. […] We help them save money.”

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