I was born and raised in Los Angeles, a city with over 51,000 homeless individuals. It was impossible to grow up in the homeless capital of the nation and not encounter people living on the streets. While I was always aware that homelessness was a problem, it was not until senior year in high school that I began to think critically about why, as a society, we had failed to address it.
It was my last year at Alexander Hamilton High School, and my final project for the Humanities Magnet attempted to examine how perceptions of homelessness shape individuals’ opinions about taking action. As part of my project, I surveyed retail workers in Santa Monica and Venice– areas that 8 years ago had a significantly large homeless population – and interviewed people living on the street. Through these surveys and interviews, I began to realize that there existed a divide between what individuals perceived to be the causes of homelessness and the reasons that people ended up on the streets.
Those working in retail stores frequently felt that homelessness was a choice or that individuals struggling with alcohol or drug addictions were undeserving of compassion. Others saw homelessness as simply a nuisance that hampered business. Furthermore, individuals that I surveyed felt that the problem of homelessness was unsolvable, that it would continue to exist despite any efforts to address it.
For my project I also had the opportunity to speak to several homeless individuals, who shared their stories with me. Among other issues, the people I spoke to talked about their efforts to access affordable housing, the loss of support networks, the inability to find employment, and struggles with addiction as they used drugs and alcohol to self medicate mental health problems.
While it merely scratched the surface of an extremely complex issue, my high school project allowed me to reflect on the importance of educating people and framing the conversation around homelessness as one in which housing is a basic human right and in which people are treated with understanding and compassion. This summer, I was given the opportunity to do just that as a Temporary Program Associate at United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
Over the next couple of months, I will be helping United Way engage the public in its Home for Good initiative and its annual 5K fundraising walk, HomeWalk. I will be doing this through various avenues of social media including Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts on the Home For Good website. I am excited to be a part of Home For Good, which is helping to change the way we think about homelessness. It is shifting the conversation to one in which housing first is not only the most successful and cost effective solution but also the most compassionate and humane way to address homelessness. Perhaps even more importantly, Home For Good is helping us understand that homelessness is a solvable problem and that we can end homelessness in our communities.
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