Street Tales

More than 25,000 people are estimated to be homeless in the city and more than 53,000 in Los Angeles County (up from 44,000 last year)

Not exactly paradise

Throughout the city of Los Angeles, homeless people live in tents or makeshift encampments near parks, on freeway overpasses and underpasses and hundreds of out-of-the-way places. More than 25,000 people are estimated to be homeless in the city and more than 53,000 in Los Angeles County (up from 44,000 last year).

America’s second largest city is spending $100 million on the homeless problem in 2016. The city’s administrative office, however, contends LA would need to spend nearly $2 billion over the next decade to lessen the problem significantly. The county is receiving an additional $84 million in federal grants to assist with homelessness.

Reverend Andrew Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission, thinks that a mix of strategies is needed to solve the problem. He cited data indicating it takes $40 million to build a 102-unit apartment complex for the homeless. Bales said LA could build two rescue missions with round-the-clock comprehensive care for 1,600 people for the same price.

“We have created a disaster in LA. We put all of the services in one area, and now we have 4,000 people living on the sidewalk and streets of Skid Row, and the skyrocketing rents now in LA are causing many skid rows to break out all over town,” Bales said.

“Homelessness is an epidemic in LA. … So we have a plan to regionalize services throughout LA County and try to end Skid Row as we know it,” he said.

LA’s homeless problem stands in stark contrast to New York City, where more money and legal actions have addressed the crisis. “The day we announced $100 million, they announced $3 billion,” Bales said. “The biggest thing we need to change in LA is to change the heart of LA so that we just won’t tolerate precious human beings dying on the streets.”

Her own worst enemy

When Lois was in high school, her best friend jumped to her death off the Skyway Bridge in Florida. Then her successful businessman father died of a cocaine overdose. She then came home from school one afternoon to find her beloved mother hanging from a chandelier affixed to the high ceiling of their upper-crust family home. Lois and her brother ran away.

Five years later, her brother stopped talking to her and never would again, and Lois was featured on the Keith Olbermann show as the most arrested prostitute in America.

Totally estranged from her relatives and preyed upon by the denizens of the ghetto, she has been homeless on the streets of St. Petersburg for 13 years. Today she trades sex for motel rooms, cigarettes and pills. The local police bulletin board features the headshot of the 36-year-old lost soul.

Half of her adult life has been spent in jail or prison. She has called these home, and she kind of enjoys her stays—she receives three square meals, and all her friends are there.

A straight-A student with a high IQ who is hard to beat at Jeopardy, Lois is a voracious reader of any book she can find, yet she is both her own—and the community’s—worst enemy: smart enough to know exactly what is going on, but unable to stop the spiraling trip to hell.