Most people think that living on the streets is something that couldn’t happen to them, but there were 956,864 foreclosure filings and 203,108 home repossessions in 2016 alone. Many people are just one or two missed paychecks away from homelessness, and the homeless population in Los Angeles only continues to grow as housing prices rise in California.
As a result, the city has installed new public toilets in Skid Row and has built affordable housing projects along the freeways. But not everyone thinks the efforts are a good idea.
About one in every four people experiencing homelessness nationwide were located in either Los Angeles or New York City. In 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development recorded more than 55,000 homeless individuals living in Los Angeles. U.S. consumer debt continues to rise, reaching heights of nearly $3.4 trillion in 2015, so it’s no surprise that major cities are grappling with the issue.
L.A. city officials have debated for decades about the best ways to help the homeless. The city has installed and torn down bathrooms over the years, trying to balance the need to serve this population without providing an easy place to meet that might attract crime or harm local businesses. But now, the city is facing a true crisis, which has prompted officials to take action. The portable toilet rental market generates around $1 billion per year in the U.S., but the bathrooms the city is adding now will be more permanent.
The key, officials say, lies in the full-time attendants, whom activists are referring to as “ambassadors” to monitor the facilities and welcome those who use them. The city and these advocates also hope to provide refreshments, feminine hygiene products, and benches. While the $450,000 is rather sparse, with only eight toilets and six showers to serve so many, a later expansion will increase these numbers and add in laundry facilities.
New toilets aren’t the only way the city is trying to help. More affordable housing is being built in an effort to ease the area’s homeless population. The state is funding at least 10 new affordable housing projects located near major freeways. Previous health advisories have warned of the dangers of building houses too close to California’s crowded highways. But according to the Los Angeles Times the California Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory that eases those older recommendations from 2005. Still, the U.S. EPA maintains the warning that living near highly polluted highways can lead to reduced lung function, heart disease, asthma, and premature death. But state housing regulators consider California’s stance to be a real win.
That said, some people don’t think it’s a good idea to help the homeless at all. Critics say that well-meaning folks who try to ease the burden of those dealing with homelessness by providing food, shelter, and basic hygiene are enabling them to continue on the same path. In San Diego, the El Cajon community recently passed a measure that prohibits feeding the homeless, supposedly out of health and sanitary concerns.
But as the cost of living continues to rise, options for area homeless people keep dwindling. Just because the economy in L.A. is booming doesn’t mean this population will suddenly find an affordable place to live. So for now, it’s up to city officials to lend a helping hand.