Los Angeles is facing an increasing homeless crisis. Walk down the streets of Skid Row, and you’ll walk past tent after tent. These tents line almost every city block in the area. The problem is not confined to Skid Row. In Venice, where housing prices easily reach into the millions, the homeless population has increased dramatically, as well. In almost every neighborhood or suburb of the city the crisis is visible.
How Serious Is The Problem?
The city of Los Angeles experienced a 16 percent increase in the number of homeless people from the previous year. In Los Angeles County, the number of people without housing rose 12 percent this year. There are now more than a staggering 58,000 homeless people in the county. So, how is it that people are living in such squalid conditions in one of the wealthiest cities in the world?
What Factors Contribute To The Crisis?
The west coast appears to be especially prone to homelessness. Part of the reason is there is not enough affordable housing in California and other coastal cities. Soaring rent and sky-high real estate prices are partly to blame. In places where housing costs are already through the roof, like Los Angeles, even moderate increases in rent can cause thousands of people to lose their housing. It doesn’t help that — at 24 percent, L.A. County has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.
Another contributing factor to homelessness is mental illness. The Los Angeles Times recently examined the data from a survey on homelessness taken this year. They found that more than half of those living on the streets have a mental illness. Substance abuse is another huge contributor to homelessness. Approximately 46 percent of the homeless in L.A. have substance abuse issues.
What Is The Answer?
Homelessness is often ignored — as long as it occurs where people can’t see it. Otherwise, the problem is treated as a nuisance. Where people live and work, illegal homeless camps are often cleared out. It has been reported that is some cities, like Oakland, California, citizen patrols walk the streets to try to push homeless people to another area. Recently it was also revealed that New York City has transported up to 5,000 homeless individuals to other states and communities.
The problem is that rampant homelessness hurts both those living on the streets, and everyone else in the community. Outlawing homeless camps or shipping homeless people off to another city will not solve the problem nor is it the humane thing to do. Homeless people are dying in record numbers in Los Angeles due to their living conditions and lack of basic sanitary facilities. According to data from the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, deaths among the homeless have increased more than 76 percent in the last five years alone. This is not surprising considering the unhealthy conditions of many homeless camps.
Homelessness is also detrimental to communities. It is expensive for one thing. That is because people who are homeless often require the most costly publicly-funded health and social services. Ignoring the problem is not helpful for the communities in which it occurs. It is also not compassionate to allow people to die on the city’s streets, park benches, and sidewalks. Los Angeles must take steps to address the problem rather than simply removing it from sight.
Addressing the Root Causes
So, what is the solution to the homeless crisis in L.A.? The answer may be found in the Italian city of Trieste, Italy. The city has become a model for many cities in the United States looking for compassionate solution.