It could be argued that the front door lock is the most essential household amenity. While housing provides shelter from the elements, in a temperate climate such as Southern California, the most important function of a home is safety.

A few weeks ago, four of our homeless neighbors were beaten. Three of them died.

The first attack took place on Sept. 16 at 4:30 a.m. A man took up a baseball bat and attacked three men on the street. All three were taken to the hospital in critical condition and two of them passed away in the coming days.

On Sept. 21, a man was found under a bridge in Santa Monica. Investigators believe he was sleeping when he was attacked. The same assailant was found responsible for both incidents. He is now in custody.

In 2017, there were a recorded 1,716 violent and property crimes against our homeless neighbors in Los Angeles. According to a study conducted by the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition, 40 percent of women who are homeless report they have experienced physical or sexual abuse.

In addition, those who live without housing deal with the risk of fires, many of which are the result of arson. This year, there have already been over 81 fires affecting encampments in Los Angeles, destroying the few belongings that these vulnerable neighbors have left.

Individuals become more and more vulnerable as they lose possessions, gain injuries that are often unaddressed due to lack of health care, and suffer psychological trauma.

United Way of Greater Los Angeles works around the clock with local partners to meet immediate needs and create systemic change. In the last two years, we have helped provide housing to more than 30,000 of our formerly homeless neighbors and have helped prevent over 6,000 people from becoming homeless. That said, there are 53,000 individuals, including children, in L.A. County who still do not have a safe place to sleep on any given night.

There is a way out, but it takes the support of the entire community. It requires all of us to see our neighbors as we would our family, realizing that each person needs the kind of protection we receive from the locks on our front doors.

If you’d like to take a more active role in ensuring the safety of our neighbors, consider joining United Way’s Everyone In™ coalition or donating to United Way’s work. Visit EveryoneInLA.org and UnitedWayLA.org for more information.