According to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, an estimated 254,000 women, children and men experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and approximately 82,000 people are homeless on any given night.
In 2016, Los Angeles County noted that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County was 46,874, an overall increase of 2,515 people, or 5.7 percent, from 2015 (44, 359).
Whichever statistic you choose to follow, the take is nonetheless that thousands and thousands in L.A. County are displaced from a permanent home and considered living as “chronically homeless.”
A chronically homeless individual as defined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is “a homeless individual with a disability who has been homeless continuously for at least four separate occasions in the last three years where the combined occasions must total at least 12 months.
In downtown Los Angeles, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of thriving businesses, high end lofts and hipster bars, restaurants and entertainment attracting tourists, is also the black eye and shame of a community known as Skid Row.
Skid Row houses the highest homeless population in the United States of America, which is a shameful and stark contrast to the lives of the elite and privileged. The “dirty divide” extreme of the haves and the have nots contrasts those living in third world living conditions in dire need of basic human necessities in the midst of charmed lives and too often vast wealth.
Although there has been a significant drop in the number of homeless veterans due to the national outcry and intentional focus on this demographic, astonishingly there has yet to be an outcry on the fact that far too many women are left to fend for themselves in vulnerable and precarious conditions.
Every three years, the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition conducts a demographic survey of the women living in Skid Row. The 2016 Needs Assessment demographic data shows women in Skid Row are far more likely to be older and African American than women in L.A. County, suggesting these groups experience homelessness and extreme poverty at disproportionately high levels.
At this point you must question what the city officials are doing to address these disparities. Well, there is a silver lining. Just last November, the city of Los Angeles passed Measure HHH with the City Council and mayor’s blessing of support.
With Measure HHH affecting the needs of those living in the city, Measure H, which will be on the March 7 ballot, will be a countywide initiative, which will not only provide housing for those homeless but also supportive services, which will give individuals the needed tools to move their lives forward in a positive way. Measure H is a one-quarter-cent sales tax increase, which will go a long way to bring remedies to far too many whose lives have been affected by homelessness.
Measure H will need to pass with 66.7 percent of the vote. Therefore, we all need to make our vote count.
Also, please know that Measure S does the exact opposite and will be counterproductive as well as detrimental.
Therefore, the simplest takeaway is Yes on Measure H and No on Measure S on March 7. We can no longer talk about equality and empowerment while enforcing inequities.
Suzette Shaw is a feminist poet who lives in Skid Row.