Go East, Young Man!

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by Amelia Anderson

My advice counters that of Horace Greeley, the New York Tribune newspaper publisher who said, “Go West, Young Man.” Well, the Gold Rush is over. And, as reported in the L.A. Times on June 1, “L.A. sees ‘staggering rise’ in homeless count,” soaring 23% over last year, despite increasing success in placing people in housing according to latest count.

The sharp rise to nearly 58,000, suggests that the pathway to homelessness continues to outpace intensifying efforts that – through rent subsidies, new construction, outreach and support services – got more than 14,000 permanently off the streets last year. With a significant 6,000 plus more housed in transitional waiting quarters like L.A. Family Housing.

“Staggering,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor, Janice Hahn. It is clear that if we are going to end the homeless crisis, we need to stem the overwhelming tide of people falling into homelessness.” The startling jump in scary numbers affected every demographic group, including youth (our fastest growing rise), families, veterans, and the chronically homeless. Homeless officials and political leaders pointed to steadily rising housing costs and stagnant incomes as the underlying cause.

Homelessness also increased sharply in the city of Los Angeles, where the count of just over 34,000 was up 20% from 2016. “There’s no sugarcoating the bad news,” said Mayor Garcetti as the Homeless Services Authority released its report. “This problem has persisted through administrations, through recessions. But we can’t let rents double every year. I was particularly disappointed to see veteran numbers go up.” “Our city is in the midst of an extraordinary homelessness crisis that needs an extraordinary response. These men, these women, these children are our neighbors.”

Rising rents fuel the housing crunch. A Harvard study showed economic stress to two million households in L.A. and Orange counties whose out-pay of rent exceeded 30% of income, and slid upwards to 50%. During the same period of 2000 to 2015, the median rent, adjusted for inflation, increased more than 30%, while the median income remained flat.

Currently, the median asking price for rentals countywide is $1,995 for one bedroom apartments and $2,416 for multifamily units, according to the real estate website Zillow. I am deeply concerned that over the next few years we will continue to be overwhelmed by people for whom rents are simply unsustainable,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. She called for changes in land use and rent control regulations to boost affordable housing.

So, we need more housing. How about tenants double up in Section VIII – get married? What a novel idea! Call me ‘old school’ but we need all the options we can get. Thank God (another novel idea) Proposition HHH was approved by Los Angeles voters last November to provide $1.2 billion in bond proceeds to build 10,000 apartments the next ten years. And thank the Lord again, county voters approved Measure H to provide $3.5 billion for rent subsidies and services.

That will get 15,000 into housing, but currently only 1 of 4 is “sheltered” in emergency or transitional programs, leaving 43,000 on the streets. And the chronically homeless – on the streets for a year or more or multiple times and suffering from mental illness, addiction or physical disability – increased 20% to more than 17,000.

Our numbers are not increasing locally–for now! But good news!! Governor Jerry Brown passed law allowing a second unit to be built on R1 property; attached or detached or built over an existing garage, just so the square footage does not exceed half the square footage of the front house.

It must adhere to local code, but it can be rented out. Of course homeowners can also convert a bedroom with outside access and chores, that may enable them to stay longer in their own home. But, whether you are a homeowner or a homeless person, I say “Go East Young Man” (or “Old Man”) especially if you like to fish; to Kentucky, Michigan or North Carolina — wherever your roots are from. Life is cheaper and less harried. Get back with a brother or son, a mother or ex-wife. I’m available to drive to an airport, train or bus. Which I’ve done many times.

And it works.

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