Los Angeles: City of the stars and the homeless

Los Angeles, April 16: Los Angeles is the world’s entertainment capital, as is evident at world-famous, red-carpet ceremonies like the Oscars, Emmys and the Grammys. But it also has another, unglamorous aspect that rarely receives attention in the media — a skyrocketing homeless population.

The number of people living in the streets or in shelters in Los Angeles County has risen by 75 per cent over the past six years, from 32,000 to nearly 58,000, Efe news agency reported.

Homelessness surged by 23 per cent in 2017 alone, according to official figures from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which says that Skid Row — an area just to the east of the city’s financial district — is the epicentre of a problem that also has extended to popular tourist areas like Hollywood.

HUD said in its 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress that on a single night last year, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the US.

New York City had the largest homeless population (76,501), although 95 per cent of those individuals were sheltered.

By contrast, 74.7 per cent of the 55,188 homeless persons in Los Angeles City & County were not being sheltered, the second-worst rate after Fresno/Madera County, California (75.8 per cent)

Harmony, a woman in her 20s who appears twice as old, is among those experiencing this plight. For several months, she has been forced to spend her nights at gas station just a few meters from the Chateau Marmont Hotel.

Harmony told Efe she had been laid off from her job and could no longer afford the skyrocketing rent costs in Los Angeles County.

She said she did not have a problem with drugs or alcohol and was confident she would be given a new employment opportunity, adding that she had applied for work at nearly 30 different places.

Rick Lomas, 67, also has been spending his days at the same gas station, where he provides directions to motorists and pedestrians.

He lost his job in Van Nuys, California, two years ago for consuming drugs, but he said with a smile on his face that he had found a place to spend the night where he would not be beaten up.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says the city government plans to reduce the homeless population by half within five years and reach a “functional zero”-level by 2028 in part by using $1.2 billion in homeless housing funds that were approved by voters in 2016.

That money is to be used to build 10,000 housing units over the next decade.

Garcetti also said this week that he backed a legislative proposal to earmark around $1.5 billion of California’s projected $6.1 billion budget surplus for programmes to address homelessness in cities across the state.

But two members of Los Angeles’ homeless population said the city was not acting quickly enough.

Vicky and her son Moses, who have been spending their nights huddled in a sleeping bag on Poinsettia Place, outside the building where Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network operates, said 2028 was very far off and they needed concrete actions now.