Sunday, February 08, 2009

Homeless in LA

While on a first read this article seems to be reporting a wonderful service, what the service actually does is make homelessness easier, and that is probably not what communities want to do.

One would think communities would be more interested in teaching a man to fish than giving him fish—teaching the homeless how to become householders rather than continuing in homelessness, and in New York there is a program, Ready, Willing & Able, which does just that.

We have tried to get local homelessness program leaders interested in the Ready, Willing & Able approach, as you can see from our research report from 2005, (pp. 30-37), and again in 2008 when I was on the Interagency Council to End Homelessness, but have had no luck; but hope springs eternal.

An excerpt from the article.

“The trappings of the lives of Krystle Marage and her three daughters are not unusual. There are hairbrushes and loofah sponges; Game Boys and skateboards; school books and Bibles; clothes, clothes and more clothes. These days, they have to fit it all inside four trash cans, which sit alongside 500 others in a dank warehouse, around the corner from a frozen fish distributor and a cheap hotel.

“Marage, 46, grew up on a pig-and-chicken farm in Belize. The girls' father checked out long ago, she said. She's never had money, not in Belize, not in New York, where she immigrated in 1993, and not in L.A., where she arrived last year after friends convinced her there were jobs to be had. She's always made it, one way or another.

“Two weeks ago, luck ran out. Unable to find work and living on $359 a month in county general-relief assistance, Marage couldn't carry the rent on the one-bedroom space where they'd been staying in the South Park district, not far from Staples Center. She and her daughters landed on skid row.

“Marage, a devout Christian, is sure the devil is after her. Authorities offer a more temporal explanation. The economy, they say, has soured to the point that skid row's sad parade of junkies, drunks and the mentally ill is not only swelling, but is increasingly peppered with new faces.

“Many are new to homelessness. Some are educated professionals -- a few still carry briefcases -- and one, a few weeks back, was so confident that he was but a temporary visitor that he arrived clutching a pair of unused golf cleats. Long after it became city policy that skid row is no place for children, a jarring number of the newcomers are mothers and their children.

“So, at the warehouse run by the nonprofit Central City East Assn., where the homeless have long stored their belongings in trash cans that are gently referred to as "bins," operators are contending with a clientele they've never had before. The shift, they said, is subtle but real, and they are scrambling to respond.

“Last weekend, they closed the warehouse for several hours so they could reconfigure and squeeze in more bins. Managers hope to add 50 more, although that still won't meet the need, said the association's executive director, Estela Lopez.”