CA Homeless Crisis: The Hidden Homeless

There was a time in the not so distant past that the term ‘mobile home’ referred to a form of inexpensive, prefab housing built on a steel chassis similar to that of automobiles and trucks and equipped with wheels. Once assembled these ‘mobile homes’ were towed to a location and set on a concrete foundation where they were primarily used for long term occupation. Of course because they had wheels they could be moved again to a new location by the owner if desired. The most common location of these homes were mobile home parks built specifically to accommodate mobile homes and travel trailers.

Although the term ‘mobile home’ still refers to a home on wheels, many of these ‘mobile homes’ have grown in size and are sometimes bigger than a regular house. They often take up two or three standard spaces in a mobile home park. These home are delivered in sections to the site, set up and put in place. Although they continue to be called ‘mobile homes’ these larger homes are no longer mobile.

homeless-familyToday the term ‘mobile home’ has taken on a new meaning. For the last decade, as the divide between the rich and poor continues to grow and what used to be called the middle class shrinks in size, more and more casualties of class warfare have lost their jobs, been forced to sell their homes or lost them to foreclosure and have taken to living on the road. I don’t mean that they’re living in motor homes, 5th wheels or travel trailers, I’m sure they’d love to be doing that, no this particular group of homeless people have been forced to live out of the back of their trucks, vans, SUV’s, station wagons or sedans. Why? Well there is a shortage of affordable housing and job opportunities, jobs that are available are low paying, rents are through the roof, and homeless shelters are overcrowded and usually very dirty. They have no other option. These people, who are being called the ‘hidden homeless’, have lost everything, everything but their dignity and their vehicles.

And the homeless today are not the homeless we may remember from our younger days, adult males who often by choice wandered the rails, highways and byways and were often referred to as hobos or bums. No this is a whole new breed of homeless that we began seeing back in the 80’s when their numbers exploded due to government cuts in low-income housing and assistance programs for low-income families. And their numbers have been growing ever since.

getImageWho are the homeless? Today they are families with children, single mothers and their children, military veterans, unemployed blue collar and professional people the mentally ill, hell they could be your next door neighbors! And they’re all in real economic trouble. To make matters worse government spending on housing assistance programs for low-income individuals and families is less than 50% of what it was in the late 70’s before the cuts began and it doesn’t appear that it’s going to get better any time soon.

So now we have this group of “hidden homeless” living in their vehicles wherever they can. The new American vagabonds moving from place to place, just trying to make it. Tough times. Especially here in Los Angeles. L.A. had a law on the books since 1983 making it illegal to live in your car but the law wasn’t enforced until 2010 when the situation began to escalate.The law forbids anyone from using their vehicle “as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.” A 21 officer task force was put on the streets to enforce the law.

However the law was so broad that officers all interpreted it differently so enforcement was selective; officers were singling out the homeless and citing or arresting people for simply having personal belongings in their vehicles even when they were parked in private parking structures or lots, making an already difficult situation even worse. Fortunately in June of this year the Ninth Circuit Court saw fit to overturn the law saying it was “potentially discriminatory and unconstitutional” and that the law criminalized innocent behavior. Chalk one up for the poor guys!

Can you imagine losing your home and being forced to live out of your car? I remember as a teen I lived out of my VW for a week at the river while everyone else tented. Believe me it got old quick! at least my seats reclined which made sleeping a bit easier. And I didn’t have to worry about being forced to move my vehicle nightly or where my next meal was coming from. Still, it sucked. I can’t imagine having to live out of my vehicle on a full time basis.

Currently there is no accurate figure as to how many ‘hidden homeless’ there are in California. What makes it difficult is that many of the hidden homeless are embarrassed and try to keep their situation secret. Best guess estimates put the number at about 10% of the homeless family population and growing. So what can be done to remedy the situation of these ‘hidden homeless’? Some larger cities are already addressing the problem and have created or are in the process of creating large, secure parking areas for the hidden homeless which will certainly help, but what about those who live in the many smaller cities that still have ordinances that prohibit over night parking. What do the hidden homeless do there?

Although the parking lots and open street parking are a temporary answer to aid a particular group of homeless, I think the real answer is to address the homeless problem in its entirety. Sacramento holds the key. Law makers need to get down to business make things happen. Do you realize that there are laws on the books that if enacted could bring quick relief for the homeless. There is a major shortage of long term, year round homeless shelters and facilities for the growing homeless population in our state. At the state level all that has to be done is to declare a statewide shelter crisis.  Law makers should band together and call upon the Governor to declare such an emergency. But the legislators are reluctant to act. Even at the city level the mayor or board of Supervisors can declare a shelter emergency but few communities have.

What the hell is going on?  The number of homeless women and children has increased, shelters across California are at capacity, Something needs to be done! Come on Sacramento get it together! Homelessness isn’t going to go away quietly into the night. The time has come to act. Get Brown to declare a shelter emergency and do it soon so that the problem can be addressed correctly. No more band aids! You go home to a warm, safe home every night, these people are crowded into shelters, sleep in their cold vehicles, or under a bridge somewhere.

Perhaps the time has come for Governor Brown to forgo his super-sized ego and scrap his dreams for his super bullet train! The Brown Express is unnecessary and should be scrapped immediately! The billions would be better spent on the California Homeless Crisis. Come on Brown, leaving behind a legacy like a bullet train is small potatoes when you can leave behind a legacy of care and helpfulness. I’m quite sure going out as a legendary leader would be more fulfilling than leaving us a train.

Just Saying…





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