During the final days of February, 2023, the Los Angeles area experienced record-breaking cold and rain. Just a few months earlier, months of uninterrupted triple-digit temperatures broke similar records. Science confirms that these violent extremes of weather are evidence of global warming resulting directly from human activity during the past century. And yet we feel helpless to intervene, as if the crisis that rocks our planet has appeared out of the ether.
Homelessness in Los Angeles is viewed much the same way. People ask “Where did it come from? Why is it happening?” with a similar sense of helplessness.
Like global warming, homelessness is a worldwide crisis of growing proportions. And like the climate crisis, the fact that 40,000 (a conservative estimate) children, teens, women, families, veterans and elders currently struggle to survive on the streets of the greater Los Angeles area is the result of multiple causes.
How does someone end up sleeping on the street? It’s almost never a single reason. Several factors frequently come into play: generational poverty, institutionalized racism, lack of education, domestic violence, addiction, and mental illness are almost aways present in some form. Since the founding of Gracie’s Giving Hands, radical spikes in the cost of housing, as well as the erasure of many public health programs and social services, make Angelenos especially vulnerable to the threat of homelessness. It may surprise you to learn that some of the individuals we serve have jobs. And even though they are employed, their wages are not enough to maintain a rental in Los Angeles, where the simplest efficiency apartment may list for $1200 a month or more. Not even close.
We watch the weather, the sky, the clouds, because the people we serve sleep in the elements, on unforgiving cement and concrete. The issues of global warming and homelessness are related, since extremes of weather affect the most vulnerable populations, namely those without shelter.
Getting caught in the rain without an umbrella is inconvenient.
Trying to sleep in a stuffy, hot room without an air-conditioner is uncomfortable.
The reality that thousands of Angelenos endure the elements every day without protection, food, water, or medical care is unacceptable.
Spring will soon come to Los Angeles, followed by the summer heat. Heat that lingers until dawn on the hard, unforgiving surfaces of asphalt and concrete where our unhoused daughters, sisters, mothers, sons, brothers find themselves each night. Long-term exposure to extreme heat, along with dehydration, are primary causes of death among unhoused people, although this fact is rarely reported. While hypothermia, or death from cold, is rare in Los Angeles, this, too, is the way that some lives end on Skid Row.
What will you do this spring, this summer? Go on vacation? Turn up the air-conditioner in your car? While the weather may be beyond our immediate control, the crisis of homelessness in Los Angeles is not something that we need to accept as fate, or destiny. The future of the unhoused communities in Los Angeles, along with the future of our city, county, nation and planet, is subject to change, by us.
Just as every human life on the street is valuable, every one of us has a contribution to make. Volunteer your time and skill. Donate -- we need everything from toothbrushes and underwear to dog food and hard, cold cash. Involve your co-workers, colleagues or congregation to create a fund-raiser or donation event. The possibilities are limited only by our willingness to become involved, and prepare for the wild weather to come.