The homeless population facing challenges amid cleanup efforts

With encampments being cleared and not enough housing being offered, California’s homeless population awaits help.

By Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor

Security guards take down signs on March 26 that were posted by activists protesting the sweep of Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo. The posters read "silence is violence," "House keys not handcuffs" and "services not sweeps." (Ava Rosate / The Valley Star)

The homeless community of Los Angeles continues to withstand a downturn of resources despite constant calls for help as governmental attention has swayed elsewhere.

The housing crisis that has ravaged the city has worsened over the past few years, but many are trying to bring attention back to unhoused individuals. While housing continues to be a problem for a large number of people, many encampments — such as the one in Little Tokyo — have been cleared out in an effort to clean up the city. With the city attempting to reach its goal of creating 25,000 housing units by 2025, other organizations have begun to offer housing to those in need, recognizing the steps needed to not lose focus on the city’s biggest issue.

City councilman and mayoral candidate Kevin de Leon supported the clearance of the encampment downtown. Putting 106 people into temporary housing and removing trash from the streets, de Leon addressed the problem before being elected, despite the protests that the action disregarded those who preferred to stay out of shelters.

“We have more than 41,000 people living on the streets,” de Leon told KTLA. “This is not an issue that’s been around for years. This is an issue that’s been around for decades, but we’ve had a lot of politicians at every level of government to federal, state, county and local government who have quite frankly ran circles on the issue, and people want action, and that means moving with a sense of urgency.”

The issue of a rising unhoused population having no place to go has gotten to the point where encampments are being cleared, despite the lack of housing. According to NBC Los Angeles, the encampment in the Toriumi Plaza of Little Tokyo was dispersed to clean the streets and repair the plaza, but many protested on behalf of the unhoused individuals.

California’s unhoused population has increased by about 50,000 from 2014 to 2020. According to Cal Matters, the number of homeless people in the state was about 161,000 the last time it was counted in 2020, with over 100,000 of them unsheltered.

Many organizations are doing what they can to tackle this issue.

UCLA began the “Bruin Shelter” in February 2021, giving unhoused students a place to stay. According to the website, the Bruin Shelter is the “third student-run shelter in the entire nation.”

Project Roomkey focuses on those who have been infected by COVID-19, offering places for the homeless to recover from the virus and quarantine from the outside world.

Hope of the Valley is a San Fernando Valley based organization dedicated to providing housing, food, medical referrals and showers to those who need them. CEO Ken Craft decided to live in the streets for a week in December, experiencing for himself what it is like to be without a home.

“What we need is housing,” said Craft. “We’ve got to get people indoors. I know first hand. I only spent a hundred hours on the street and I know how difficult it was, how it impacted me mentally, physically, emotionally, and I knew I was leaving the streets at the end of week. I also took a cognitive test before and after and there was definitely some mental slippage, and I’m convinced that the longer people are out on the streets, the worse they become.”

Although Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposition to provide funds for supportive housing passed in 2016, the first complex did not open until 2020.

“Imagine being an outreach worker in 2016 and saying, ‘Man, have we got good news for you. We’re going to be building permanent housing to bring you indoors. Just hang in there for the next four years,’” said Craft. “That’s demoralizing, That’s discouraging. That makes about as much sense as if I have hypothermia, telling me to wait in the snow until a doctor could see me.”

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