The State of California faces a greater struggle than any other state in the U.S. in dealing with homelessness, inflation, and the overall cost of living. Though California has earmarked $1.6 billion for homelessness, “people are still falling into homelessness faster than our system can move them out,” according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Co-Executive Director. The state’s efforts simply cannot keep up with our rising population of poor and homeless.
And yet suffering humanity is where individual humanitarian efforts shine the brightest. With Giving Tuesday approaching, and important decisions being made on where to pass along your blessings this holiday season, consider the following crises we’re dealing with.
California is home to over 27 percent of the nation’s homeless population, a disproportionally large share of those who are homeless throughout America. In Los Angeles County alone, the rate of homelessness has risen over 4 percent in less than two years, and 14.2 percent of the entire population in our county lives below the poverty line.
This is happening as inflation remains at historic levels and the cost of living in California continues to soar. Since 2019, living costs in LA county have risen 16 percent. For 75 percent of the county’s families, the cost of rent and utilities now exceeds 30 percent of income. This means, even with a $16.04 per hour minimum wage, the average worker needs to work 53 hours per week just to cover housing.
Innocent children suffering through all of this is the greatest crisis of all. Almost half of a million children in LA county live in abject poverty, and nearly 300,000 public school students in California experience homelessness during the course of a year.
But is the story all doom and gloom? Not from what I can see working in Los Angeles for over 25 years. The real story is all heroes and heroines. Since the early 1990s, I’ve watched thousands of heroic homeless and those struggling with addiction walk through the doors of the Dream Center, accept free transitional housing, rid themselves of terrible addictions, and walk out as whole people, equipped to care for their families with heads held high.
Because of generous donations from thousands of individuals across the country, we have been able to offer over 500 beds each night to get families off the streets, and cover 20 neighborhoods in LA county with food, clothing, furniture, and other basic needs. The result is countless stories of victory for Angelenos in their greatest hour of need.
Maria Garcia became a heroine to her family when she accepted help, recovered from a meth addiction, settled her debt to society in the courts, and became an employed, loving, healthy mother to her two sons.
My friend Joshua had fallen into psychosis from his own drug addiction. After an arrest, he accepted help and overcame substance abuse. Then he participated in a work rehabilitation program that taught him valuable skills with an assortment of equipment and tools. “Although my experience was limited,” he says, “my drive and attitude took me farther than any of my skills could have.” Joshua has a stable career today.
These survivors are not the only heroes. Their success is also the result of the heroism of individuals who look past the tent cities, past the addictions, past the filth on city streets, and choose to see aching humanity. Amid the seeming hopelessness of that squalor, the compassion of generous people wins the day.
Individual heroes are everyday people who are willing to see broken people and say, “That man is someone’s child, and that woman has a sister or mother whose heart breaks for her.”
These citizens have hearts that are stirred for noble purposes and give generously to causes that help the neighbors in my neighborhood understand there’s always a second chance. As a result, when the homeless and addicted are approached with tailor-made solutions for their specific need, and decide they are ready to change, they have a chance to become heroes, too.
These hopeful stories are proof that California doesn't have to stay this way. Whether it's sacrificing time out of your packed schedule, or forgoing a luxury you decide you can do without this year, each of us can be a part of a solution in a culture that continues to climb uphill.
Here in LA, we don't need any more finger-pointing or blaming. What we need are more compassionate problem solvers who will join us in the fight to rescue those in need in our city.
Whether it’s their time or their treasure, I hope Americans remember they’re just one generous act away from being a hero in the story, too.