My name is Rebecca and I work with a small nonprofit organization based here in Highland Park called Recycled Resources for the Homeless (RRH). RRH is made up of a small group of like-minded individuals who are interested in working to improve the lives of the homeless in Northeast Los Angeles. We began outreach to the homeless in our community in 2009, operating on a very small budget. All individuals working with RRH are volunteers and receive no financial compensation for the work they do.
Recently, the Boulevard Sentinel published a story about our
work and our goal to end chronic homelessness here in NELA. Since this story was published many questions have been raised and at this time I am writing to
ask you, my neighbors, about your thoughts and/or feelings toward your homeless neighbors and what you believe should
be done in our community to address the problem of chronic
homelessness. I am reaching out to all
of you because it is our community and the solution, I believe,
lies with us.
During our monthly Outreach, conducted last weekend, I met a neighbor in Eagle Rock who was talking to a local long-time homeless individual who frequents a market on Eagle Rock Blvd. I thought, “Here is someone who cares.” When I approached him and asked him how he knew this homeless individual and what he thought about the homeless in Eagle Rock his response was mixed and it is what prompted me to write this letter.
His response was “They are bums and drug users who put the kids in our community at risk. If you give them Section 8 they will drive down property values and I want to see them eradicated, not swept under the rug, but eradicated.” As I listened he went on to say that he had been looking after this particular homeless individual for years, going so far as to pay for the release of his vehicle when it was impounded, and paying for engine repairs when his vehicle broke down. How kind, I thought. However I was perplexed by this notion of deserving homeless and undeserving homeless. As we spoke he mentioned that he knew that this homeless individual had a mental illness and that he was concerned for the individual; yet for those individuals that he deemed by to be drug users or by his observation participants in criminal activity, he showed little to no concern. It made me think, why is mental illness seen as a disease and addiction seen as a choice?
This citizen was not the first that I have had this conversation with. I receive emails from my neighbors who believe the efforts of RRH is a waste of time, and that its work is enabling people to stay homeless and/or continue on their path of illicit activity. It seems that many believe homelessness is a choice and if people did not want to be homeless that they could get their lives in order. If this is true, then why do the homeless who we interact with almost always tell us that they don’t want to be homeless?
Since 2009, the vast majority of homeless people we have encountered have told us they want housing. There are, however, a myriad of reasons why they remain homeless. The primary reasons cited include a lack of affordable housing, insufficient income (even for those with a SSI income of $866 monthly), the services are too difficult to navigate, they have a previous eviction history or criminal record, or the process of applying and conforming to housing requirements is simply too daunting for them to complete. So, I ask, if homelessness is a choice, then why do so many people we meet want housing and why do they remain homeless?
The majority of homeless individuals we encounter in our Highland Park/Eagle Rock neighborhoods are locals; that is to say they were born and raised in this area. Many went to elementary school here, have other family members here, and justifiably call this area home. Few want to relocate to skid row to seek services for reasons that seem obvious to me. Skid row is a dangerous and dirty place and it is not the neighborhood they know. As a resident of Highland Park I know why I live here and why I love NELA. Would you want to go to skid row? Furthermore, if the homeless in this area are residents of NELA, why should we send them to another area for help? Instead, shouldn’t we as a community be helping our neighbors?
As RRH continues to seek a solution to end chronic homelessness in NELA, I ask you as my neighbors for your suggestions on what can be done. I am seeking feedback about our work and asking for any ideas you may have in addressing our homeless issue. RRH has thus far compiled a database of 189 chronically homeless individuals in NELA, with an average of more than seven years of living on the streets. What do we do with these 189 individuals? The most basic definition of community is a group of people living together in one place. This means people who live here with or without housing constitute a community. What can we do as a community to demonstrate that we care for everyone?
With great respect for our community,