Day in and day out, thousands of homeless men, women, and children, from a variety of backgrounds, drift through the streets of Los Angeles County, panhandling for money to buy their next meal and searching for somewhere safe to spend the night.
Busy onlookers pass them on their way to and from work or school, yet few stop to offer them help, no matter how little that may be. To the rest of the world, these people are misunderstood and labeled with denigrating and undeserved characteristics: indolent, useless, and selfish, among many others.
The Los Angeles Homelessness Authority recently conducted a three-day effort to count the total amount of homeless individuals living in the L.A. area, as they do every two years. The project saw thousands of volunteers tirelessly searching hundreds of square miles from downtown’s Skid Row to semi-rural neighborhoods, such as Antelope Valley.
The numbers calculated are crucial in deciding how much federal money will be allocated towards combating homelessness, as well as making sure that the people afflicted with the issue know they do, in fact, matter.
On the first night, Angel Espinoza and three other volunteers gradually drove through the infamous Skid Row, America’s so called “homeless capital,” being careful not to count even one person out of the tally. All they could see around them are numerous tents and cardboard shelters filling the entire length of the concrete sidewalks.
“We don’t get close to them. We try not to disturb them, because a lot of them are already asleep,” Alvarez said.
“It is very depressing,” he added, noting that a lot of the homeless are mentally ill.
A few blocks away from Alvarez, Veterans Affair Secretary Robert McDonald makes his way through the crowded street, writing a tally on his notebook every time he spots another homeless person. His attendance was an expression of the Obama administration’s need to resolve the predicament of homeless veterans. Earlier reports have found that out of the 630,000 people living on the streets, approximately 50,000 are veterans.
“It is really heartbreaking to see these veterans living without homes,” McDonald said. “They have risked their own lives to fight for a nation that does not even seem to care that they are sleeping out on the cold streets.”
The outcomes of the census will be made available sometime in April, Alvarez said.
The effort certainly has a good goal and intention. However, it is not enough to just get a number. The federal and state government have to make sure that they do everything necessary to resolve the issue of homelessness once and for all.