People should take greater initiative to combat homelessness

Busy areas of Los Angeles, like Skid Row, are far from pleasant. With waste in the streets, cracked sidewalks, smog-thick air, and putrid smells, very few would wish to spend more time than needed among the bustling crowds.

Well, some people don’t have a choice. Over half a million people are homeless in our country. Why is this number so high and why does it not raise concern? Why are kids just like you and me living alone on the streets, often without shelter or any help at all? As a community, we need to assess these questions and ask ourselves how we as individuals can make a difference.

It’s rather daunting that sympathy, a characteristic often thought to distinguish the human race, is now a distant concept to us when it comes to the homeless in our country. Thoughts like “It’s not my problem” and “they’re homeless because they didn’t save money” mirrors the widespread mindset associated with homelessness, regardless of whether they are true or not. The thing is, the problem goes far beyond those immediately affected by homelessness: it is your problem, too. It is my problem. It is our problem.

To many, homelessness has become a petty issue, separated from the pain of those enduring it and enlisted simply for political ploys and counterarguments. Our growing inability to connect with others is influencing the youth to be less receptive to sympathetic issues in society, such as homelessness. Rather than helping the homeless, the well-off choose to call them lazy while they sit at home watching meaningless garbage on their 4K television.

In addition, people tend to use homeless veterans as their argumentative tactic on basically every political or global issue: “why are we helping _____ when we have homeless veterans?” I have yet to personally see a single one of these commenters out in their communities helping the homeless veterans or the homeless in general.

In fact, Vice President Pence who tweeted “Our nation owes a debt to our veterans, and it is a debt we can never fully repay – but on this Veterans Day, and every day, we will strive to do just that.” Although he claims a desire to help veterans, he cut transitional shelter programs and reduced shelter budgets, harming the hundreds of homeless veterans living in his state, as the governor of Indiana

However, veterans are not the only group struggling with homelessness. At least 88% of homeless families attribute their situation to domestic violence, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Many people — specifically women and children — are forced to choose between an abuser in their home or homelessness, fleeing to the streets. And because of the high concentration of homeless in Los Angeles, many are turned away from shelters and forced to be on their own, especially kids

In 2016, there were an estimated 35,685 unaccompanied, homeless minors in our country, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s the approximate equivalent to Manhattan Beach’s entire population.

In addition, about 40% of homeless youth seeing service providers are LGBTQ, many of whom were kicked out by parents who refuse to accept their identities, according to a national study done by the Williams Institute of Law. No wonder our society cannot sympathize with strangers in need; they can’t even sympathize with their own children.

While the issue of homelessness has been improving nationwide (decreasing 3% between 2015 and 2016), the issue is highly concentrated in California, specifically Los Angeles. Our state has the highest population of homeless in the country and the highest rate of unsheltered homeless. Almost half (44%) of the homeless in California are unsheltered, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department. Compare that to the country’s second place, Florida, which has 9% of homeless unsheltered. As a state, we are doing at least 35% worse than the rest of the country.

Yes, there are shelters, but there aren’t enough, and, simply put, many of them aren’t adequate. With 74% unsheltered homeless, Los Angeles exceeds the state’s already concerning 44%, according to People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), because the substantially high rate of homelessness in the county leads to overfilled shelters.

For those unsheltered, finding a place to sleep is more difficult than people may think. Many cities have made an effort to keep the homeless off their streets. Beverly Hills passed the Panhandling Bill in the 90s which makes it illegal for people to sit or lie on sidewalks and other public areas open to pedestrians, according to the Los Angeles Times. In addition, homeless people living in Palos Verdes and Santa Monica tend to settle in the library (another place where they often cannot lay down) to avoid harassment from authorities called by “concerned” citizens.

While associations like PATH are working hard to find homes for these people, the majority of the U.S. is not doing enough. Heck, I’m not doing enough. People need to take action and need to put an effort into helping others.

In addition, the issue of homelessness is not being met with proper political action. Democrats and Republicans alike lack motivation or a decent plan to benefit the homeless. We need fresh blood in our government. We need representatives who care and will truly work to better the lives of our citizens— all of our citizens.

When election time comes around again, vote. For those of you who are not 18, research and form your own opinions and then advocate for candidates you think can make a difference. Attend city hall meetings or research city policies and decide whether they are fair to the homeless in your neighborhood. If they aren’t, work to change them.

The homeless are not lazy, and they are not all mentally unstable criminals who want to hurt you. There are some homeless people who may be rude or intimidating, but there are many who are kind and simply disadvantaged. In any niche of society, there will be those who are angry and those who are grateful. Don’t let one bad experience ruin your image of all people in need.

The stigma surrounding homelessness remains constant, and while some people are angry or unstable, the majority are people who simply need a break.

You can give them that break.

Helping the homeless doesn’t mean you have to build a shelter or volunteer daily. You can start small. Donate old, clean clothes to shelters, give a little food to someone who looks hungry. Even as a high schooler, you can help. Stop by room 501 to donate to the Downtown Women’s Shelter or participate in the Red Cross Club’s drive for veterans (office or room 821). Helping people is much easier than many think, people just need to find the initiative to act.