LA’s housing crisis is one reason behind the huge increase in Latino homelessness

On a recent Thursday night at the Eagle Rock Covenant Church, the aroma of a Salvadoran chicken dish – onions, tomatoes and chilies – wafted through the kitchen. Every week, church volunteers in this Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood prepare a free meal for those who need one.

Ernesto Medina, who oversaw the volunteers, said he’s seen the rise in homelessness. “In the neighborhood there’s a lot, a lot of homeless–yeah, and I feel good to help someone who really needs it. Yeah, most of them they sleep in the street.”

Ernesto Medina (Photo: Devan Schwartz)

According to LA County’s latest homeless count, last year saw a 23 percent increase in homelessness and an unprecedented 63 percent rise in Latino homelessness.

“You saw the increase in Latino communities because that’s where the next wave of a lot of the gentrification and redevelopment is happening,” said Eric Ares, deputy director of Los Angeles Community Action Network.

Eric Ares (Photo: Devan Schwartz)

While Los Angeles is home to migrants from throughout Latin America–many homeless Latinos are native Angelenos.

Mary Lopez grew up in Los Angeles and became homeless after her father died of cancer and her mother diabetes. Like many, she has depended on the Eagle Rock church for food and assistance. She even got a haircut here.

Mary Lopez gets a haircut (Photo: Devan Schwartz)

At a park in Boyle Heights, Mirca Flores and her husband have found a nook to sleep in. Flores said there’s nowhere else for the two of them to go. “For us, it’s all expensive and difficult. We’re alone. I don’t believe we can pay rent,” Flores said. She said she just wants a job cleaning houses, or doing anything else that pays.

Nearby, Dolores Mission runs a homeless shelter for men and women and serves as a social services provider.

“We’ve always been at capacity at our men’s shelter. At our women’s shelter, which opened two years ago, we have been at capacity at day one,” said program director Raquel Roman.

There is simply not enough housing.

The people who have found beds say the shelter provides them with a form of sanctuary. Many have escaped from traumas, including Edgar Salgado. He came to Los Angeles from Mexico with a perilous backstory.

He said he was kidnapped and tortured by a cartel, before coming to LA in 2016—a move he credits with saving his life. While he can only stay at the shelter for three months, he maintains a sense of optimism.

“As long as I’m alive, there is hope,” said Salgado, “and I have a future.”

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