To outsiders, Los Angeles is known not only as the “City of Angels” but also as the homeless capital of the US. On any given night, approximately 25,000 individuals sleep on our streets, due typically to some combination of joblessness, lack of affordable housing, and mental illness. Single mothers and children make up an increasing share of this total—homeless children in the county under the age of 18 totaled about 6,000 in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
We usually hear about the homeless when discussing crime, litter, and nuisance, as in a recent Los Angeles Times article about “Occupy Skid Row.” Instead of villainizing our homeless, we need to celebrate their successes and expand programs that help, rather than incarcerate them. For example, Jon Murga, the owner of an organic-oriented Fresco Community Market in Montecito Heights, goes to the Los Angeles Mission to hire employees from skid row. The job development program at the Mission gives the homeless a chance to enter rehabilitation programs to help stay off drugs and alcohol, and away from crime. Some businesses are hesitant to work with the Mission because employers fear the “stigma of homelessness.” Murga, however, isn’t afraid of such stigmas. Hiring from neighborhoods with high homeless rates “is the right thing for employers in the community to do: it’s possible to change the conversation about the homeless situation,” says Murga.
Murga’s example, with an emphasis on skill training, job placement, and affordable housing for our most vulnerable communities, is something our city can learn from. Let’s focus on creating and expanding programs to help the homeless find long-term employment and stability, rather than jump from shelter to shelter, and reduce the number of our neighbors who must sleep on our streets. Sometimes individuals just need the resources for a chance at success, and the City of LA has the same responsibility to its fallen angels as it does to the rest of its residents.