How can I help the homeless?

“We have, by far, the largest unsheltered population in the country,” Peter Lynn, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, told Madeleine Brand at a recent live recording of Press Play.

There are 47,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County and, while the problem of homelessness is clear to anyone living in Los Angeles, many aren’t sure how to help.

Before the broadcast, KCRW listeners wrote in with their questions. Many wanted to know, urgently, “what can I do?” Madeleine Brand asked the panelists that question.

What can you do to help?

Andy Bales, CEO, Union Rescue Mission: One thing you can do is love people. Look at them in the eyes and treat them with dignity. Treat them like a human being. And one way you can get there is saying “people experiencing homelessness” rather than “the homeless.” These are precious people. We kind of write them off as people and maybe put them as another rather than being just like us but in different circumstances and if we can begin to change the way that we talk about people experiencing homelessness we might begin to change the way that we treat people experiencing homeless. 

Tanya Tull, Founder & President, Partnering for Change : Well, I’m definitely not a believer in developing more shelters, but I think that the public needs to. They all care. I mean everybody cares. We all care. We need to demand and we need to help develop new strategies to meet the needs. We can’t continue to drive down these streets and know that people are living in tents and worry about them and walk by them on the sidewalk and wonder if we should give them money and worry about the kids. We can’t rely on the city and the county to do it all. We need to see ourselves as a civil society and bring together, as happened when the foundations and corporations got together with United Way and the city and county to address chronic homelessness, not all the homeless are going to be helped through those systems. We need to catch people quickly and do something. But we do promote the development of short term housing for people. The many apartments like San Francisco has done, adaptive reuse of existing warehouses just say for the next two three years you need to give people a place to stay so they can get their act together. You heard our speaker in the first session who had been homeless. You can’t think straight. You can’t go to work. You can’t put your life together unless you have your space and that space does not have to cost $350,000. But that money we can house short term maybe for a couple of years maybe not the nicest most beautiful space but I think architects can do wonders with container housing and modular housing and revamped office buildings and I saw a department store adaptive reuse into apartments. Somebody showed me last week. So that’s what I have to say. Demand action and be part of the action. It’s our responsibility. We can’t just hope that somebody else somewhere is going to take care of it.

Mike Alvidrez, CEO, Skid Row Housing Trust: Well I think you know one of the things that people can do and for those who live in L.A. County is to complete the process. Those are the bricks and mortar dollars that Prop 8 represented. I think the second half of the equation is the county is likely to have a measure on the March ballots or March of next year. It will provide additional services which are so important to help people stay in their housing and get the support services they need so they can recover their lives and lead a much fuller life. Right now the county is doing some amazing things. People are coming from all over the country to see what the county is up to in combination with the city in very new innovative programs. And so I think in order to really take that to scale we need to support those services. It will be an increase in the sales tax. We have to think about what kind of a city and what kind of county we want to live in. And we have the opportunity to again be proactive and make this region a much better place to live for all of us, particularly and especially for those folks who are vulnerable who have mental health needs or high health needs or have other complex issues that they need our help. We all benefit when they are off the street living in housing with support services.

Jose Huizar, City Councilmember: I think there’s this sentiment right now in this city, that people want to help homeless, and so we’ve got to take this momentum and do as much as we can, because I don’t think it will be here forever. And so, my first thing would be to ask people to visit these centers, the service providers, and then find the way you would like to help, or can help there, and there’s multiple ways of doing that. At the policy level, I would ask that we ask our state officials to declare a state of emergency on homelessness in large cities and secondly, get more funding for mental health. A third of our population has mental health issues and that’s really where the crux of this lays.

 Listen to the recording of Press Play’s live event, Gimme Shelter: Housing the Homeless