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Homelessness and Poverty in Los Angeles

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Despite the economic prosperity that was witnessed in the 1990s, homeless statistics reveal that the number of the homeless persons is still very high. The homelessness problem in America has persisted and it can mainly be blamed on economic depression in most urban areas. The cost of houses has been on the rise while wages and salaries have remained the same; this has resulted to housing becoming unaffordable to many people in America. Thus, the major reason for homelessness has been identified as poverty. The poor homeless people are spending much of their time in jail and hospital and are unwilling to accept any form of help advanced to them or the transitional housing.

Specifically, Los Angeles is considered to have the largest population of the homeless population in the United States. It is even considered to be one of, if not the capital of homelessness in the United States (Wolch et al, 126). According to the biannual census of 2005, it was estimated that there were about 900,000 homeless people living in the country for any particular night. Skid Row, a 50- block area which is located in downtown Los Angeles has a similar number of the homeless population as the entire homeless population of San Francisco. Other cities such as Hollywood and Santa Monica also suffer from some traces of homeless populations. To battle the problem of homelessness and prevent a further increase of the homeless population, different programs have been initiated. Most of these programs are intended to offer support to the homeless population, and integrate some type of housing programs for their clients.  The housing programs provide three types of houses: transitional, emergency, or permanent houses; these are offered for free or at a very low cost to the clients. These programs include: Bring LA Home, a program that was initiated by the private and public health providers. The program aims at building 50,000 housing units for the homeless people and projects to have ended homelessness within 10 years. The other program is a project of the Volunteers of America; the organization where I was attached. This paper will be based on the volunteerism experience gained as a volunteer in the Volunteers of America. It aims at analyzes the homelessness and poverty problems with the major focus being laid on Los Angeles. It will be the aim of the paper to investigate on the efforts that are being put forward to end this problem and the success of these efforts that have been undertaken to end the problem.

The history of the Volunteers of America in Los Angeles (VOALA) dates back to 1896. The organization was started as a church movement with the major goal of providing human services to the “poorest poor” and meeting the demands of the varied populations living in America in the 19th century. The organization was started by two founders: Belington and Maud Booth. The two were son and daughter in law of General William Booth, who is the founder of the Salvation Army (Volunteers of America). Over the years the organization has evolved to become the leading non profit organization involved with the provision of human services in the United States. Currently the organization regards itself as a nondenominational Christian church engaged with missionary work, and its programs serve approximately 1.8 million people annually. The organization prides itself for meeting the needs of the members of the society with pressing, critical needs, the aged, the homeless, abused children, the youth at risk, the disabled, and the incarcerated persons in the society. The organization is currently more than 100 years old, and its services have evolved with the changing times. However, the organization has retained the original essence of Maud and Belington’s work. The organization to the present day continues to be a faith organization but with a wider scope of support services for all the needy persons in the society irrespective of their gender, age, religion, or race. The organization’s efficiency has continued to grow and VOALA has been commended for its efficiency by several organizations and magazines (VOALA, 2008).       

Volunteers of America are an organization whose major goal is to prevent family homelessness as significant part of their organization. The common believe among the organization is that all people all people have an incredible capacity of increased insight and self sufficiency; thus, the organization is dedicated to helping the needy people realize their full potential through self advancement. The organization in several occasions has provided both transitional and emergency shelters to the homeless populations in dire need of housing. In 2006, the organization allocated $28.5 million to the homeless programs that were being run through the Housing and Urban Development Program (HUD). $1 billion was allocated to the section 8 housing programs, while $1.4 billion was allocated to the Homeless Assistance Grants. The organization provides the following two major housing projects to the homeless:   

  • Transitional housing programs- these programs are aimed at enabling both homeless individuals and families obtain permanent housing the soonest possible. These programs assist the homeless for a specified period of time or until they acquire a house for themselves and are able to operate successfully in the society, or whichever comes first.   
  • Permanent housing programs- These are housing programs specifically designed for the homeless Americans with mental and physical incapacities, which are often coupled with drug and alcohol abuse. Long term homelessness to these people can only be countered by providing permanent housing combined with rigorous support services. These permanent houses provide a foundation for homeless people to make progress out of poverty.

The organization has bought buildings and real estates and developed them into permanent housing for the homeless people under the program of transitional housing (Kooker 216).

The organization major goal is to provide human services to the needy poor; these people cut across a wide range of groups in the society. Under the housing program; the organization targets the following groups:          

  • Women- The number of women with children among the homeless population has been on the rise in Los Angeles thus, the interest in providing shelter and rehabilitation. The major program that is designed for women funding is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Women (TANF). Under the program, funds are assigned to programs that promote child support, education, and housing being given the first priority.    
  • Children- Un-parented youth between the ages of 16 to 20 years are estimated to form 12% of the population. Studies indicate that these youth are prone to physical and sexual abuse, childhood homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and juvenile detention. The organization contends that mainstream housing programs may not end the homelessness problem, thus, they provide coordinated efforts that involve a variety of services geared towards supporting the youth from foster parents and juvenile justice systems, providing education to the homeless youth, and conducting research on how to improve the lives of the homeless youth.
  • Homeless veterans- the organization provides housing to approximately 154,000 war veterans. Some of the soldiers returning from wars often find themselves among the homeless population. The organization provides well designed services targeted at meeting the needs of these veterans. The organization has assisted some of the veterans to get back at their feet after they have lost their jobs.    
  •  Families- the organization defines a homeless family as an adult who represent a homeless household. It is approximated that 15% of these households have at least one child under the age of 18 years; with each having approximately 2.2 minor children.

As a volunteer in Volunteers of America in Los Angeles, I was involved with the collection of the poverty and homelessness statistics. I was involved with collecting both primary and secondary information about the extent and characteristics of the problem of poverty and homelessness in the entire area of Los Angeles. Among the findings on the topic will be discussed below. The homelessness dynamics in Los Angeles are quite different from the rest of United States. The first difference is the number of the homeless in relation to the entire population; according to the 2002 census, 29% more people were homeless in Los Angeles compared to the rest of the United States. The second variable is the pattern of the homeless; the same census revealed that lesser impoverished people were homeless in Los Angeles compared to the rest of the United States.

These anomalies, that homeless people represent a larger proportion of the entire Los Angeles population while forming a smaller population of the impoverished people when compared to the rest of the United States could be explained through the following reasons:

  • Homelessness is the extreme expression of poverty. The poverty rates in Los Angeles are higher compared to the rest of the United States i.e. 18% in Los Angeles compared to 12% in US (United States Census Bureau). This explains the higher rates of homelessness in Los Angeles.  
  • The second reason that can be used to explain the high rates of homelessness in Los Angeles is the fact that the average rental rates in Los Angeles are higher than the national averages. This has increased the incidence of the low income households loosing their houses. It is estimated that 75% of households earning less than $20,000 in Los Angeles compared to United State’s 62%, spend over 35% of their incomes on housing (United States Census Bureau).   
  • The reason why Los Angeles accounted for lesser poor population being homeless could be attributed to the fact that the census bureau homeless count is based on shelters; thus it under counts the homeless population living on the streets. In addition, the weather in Los Angeles is warmer than in the rest of the United States; thus, a larger majority of the homeless can live on the streets. Consequently, the Census Bureau must have underestimated the homeless population in Los Angeles compared to the rest of the United States.

In conclusion, the poverty rates and consequently the rates of homelessness are quite high in Los Angeles compared to the United States in general. This has led to a problem that cuts across all divides of the population and increased the human suffering among the population of Los Angeles. The government of the United States has initiated several programs to counter the problem of homelessness and reduce the impacts of poverty. However, it is evident that the government’s efforts are not enough and welfare organizations must chip in. Though these organizations receive government grants to support their work, they conduct more valuable activities and have contributed greatly in reducing the incidence of poverty in the United States and Los Angeles in specific. The projects that have been undertaken by Volunteers of America in Los Angeles are very beneficial to the society in general as they have led to the reduced effects of other social evils such as crime that are incident to poverty. Thus, the activities of Volunteers of America in Los Angeles and other similar organizations should be supported fully.

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