Tent-lined streets with belongings scattered everywhere. Infected wounds with bugs living inside. A man who hasn’t showered in over a decade. An 80-year-old woman who can’t feed herself. People who ride the metro rail lines because the trains are a safer place to sleep.
California’s homeless problem has been out of control for decades. Then came COVID-19.
The result has been a deadly combination of medical crisis, human hopelessness and bureaucratic red tape as the state, reeling from the virus’ impacts, tries to rebound with a plan for the 160,000 homeless people. That number eclipses any other state – and accounts for half of the country’s entire unsheltered population.
A severe shelter and housing shortage is becoming not just a social services problem, but a political one as well, unlike anywhere in the country – thrusting the problem before the eyes of Californians who see people suffering and dying on the streets each day.
“There isn’t real clear leadership, there isn’t clear accountability,” says John Maceri, who heads The People Concern, one of the largest homeless relief organizations in the Los Angeles area – the epicenter of the crisis. “You have this very fractured system. It really is like herding cats.”
The state is at a critical crossroads in its post-pandemic attempt to curb its homeless crisis and the rest of the nation is watching. Gov. Gavin Newsom has earmarked $12 billion – which he called a historic budget to combat homelessness. COVID-19 protections are nearing an end, meaning evictions will soon be allowed and could worsen the problem.
And all of it is happening while a lawsuit threatens to reshape how Los Angeles – and perhaps the state – has tackled this issue after a federal judge issued a scathing rebuke of the decades of failed plans, leadership and promises to fix this problem.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Christal Hayes