Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck
January 2, 2018
As Christmas shoppers rush to make returns, consumers may not realize that many fellow Americans are spending the holidays homeless. With soaring housing prices and a shrinking rental market, due in part to the high-tech industry boom, west coast cities are facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis. Cities from Seattle to San Diego are throwing money at the problem hoping to find solutions, yet despite these efforts, the homeless population continues to surge towards catastrophic levels.
Homeless encampments in parks and freeway overpasses are not just eyesores–these are public health risks. Several cities have declared states of emergency because of deadly Hepatitis A outbreaks, which are caused by poor hygiene due to a lack of clean water and access to bathrooms. San Diego is scrambling to scrub its sidewalks with bleach to counter this public health emergency. In Anaheim, hundreds of homeless people sleep nightly on a bike path next to Angel Stadium, and Los Angeles’ Skid Row has 10,000 residents who are tragically neglected, despite a downtown renaissance.
Some of LA’s most affluent residents got an alarming wakeup call after fire investigators found evidence that the Skirball fire, which destroyed homes and forced evacuations in Bel-Air, was started by a cooking fire at a homeless camp along the 405. While residents and city leaders agree that they don’t want to demonize the homeless, this danger highlights an urgent need for a solution. The homeless numbers in Los Angeles County have jumped 23 percent, to nearly 58,000 people over the past year.
Data gathered by the Associated Press found that California, Oregon and Washington have 168,000 unsheltered people combined, which is 19,000 more homeless people than in 2015. That’s the first year that several west coast cities declared homelessness an “emergency” typically reserved for natural disasters. Government funding is only part of the solution. More help needs to come from partnerships involving the private sector, faith-based communities and non-profit organizations to achieve long-term solutions.
While the federal, state and local governments tend to focus on the chronically homeless, which include those with mental illness or substance abuse issues, the majority of individuals living without housing are considered “situationally homeless.” These people fall into homelessness due to life-altering events such as losing a job, suffering a medical emergency, domestic abuse or divorce. Those who fit this profile are typically able-bodied and are willing to work but need help getting back on their feet. This is how private businesses can step in to offer a hand by hiring the homeless and giving them the lift they need to provide for themselves.
Non-profits like the Inner Center Law Center located on Skid Row are working to prevent vulnerable populations from slipping into homelessness. The organization, which I support as a board member, is focused on fighting for safe and affordable housing and helping get homeless veterans off the streets. The group’s mission is to stop illegal evictions by providing pro-bono legal services and to address Southern California’s housing and homeless crisis through the justice system.
It’s not just the homeless and their families who suffer but as homeless encampments proliferate and multiply, the local residents and businesses suffer from a loss in their property values and income. The failure to do anything but pay lip service and make an occasional year end contribution to worthy organizations is a reminder of NIMBYism at its best. Do nothing and it may be your neighborhood next.