January 18, 2019
Every year, thousands of Angelenos join together to take a vital step in ending homelessness in Los Angeles. From January 22-24, volunteers will walk the streets of their communities as part of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. The data they gather, along with surveys of shelters, institutions and service providers, give us a true picture of homelessness in Los Angeles: who is affected, where they live and what challenges they face. Most importantly, the results of the count help government agencies and nonprofits to serve our homeless neighbors most effectively and target their work to help those with the greatest needs.
We caught up with Francisco Covarrubias, program associate for health and housing at the California Community Foundation and a frequent participant in the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. He told us about his experiences with the count, the scale of L.A.’s homelessness crisis and why all of us have a role to play in stopping it.
What drives your interest in helping end homelessness in Los Angeles?
In Los Angeles, we see so many individuals and families living on the street because they can’t afford to pay their rent. Many low-income families live paycheck-to-paycheck, paying half or more of their income towards rent. This means that they are just one missed paycheck, car accident or medical emergency from facing eviction. We also see a lot of individuals living on the streets because of mental health or addiction issues and who require not just a place to live but other services that help them stayed housed. Whether because economic or health issues, homeless individuals deserve dignity and respect. Giving them a place to call home is the first step towards getting them back to a stable life.
Can you give a sense of what L.A.’s homelessness crisis looks like today?
Nearly 50,000 of our neighbors will go to sleep homeless tonight in L.A. County, and about 75% will stay on the streets or vehicles. Angelenos can see the scale of homelessness in our city just by walking or driving down a major street, through a freeway underpass or by a park. What was once an issue associated with Downtown has become more visible in residential communities, with tents, makeshift shelters and parked cars lining our streets. I believe that this greater visibility is why there has been more support for funding homeless housing and services in the last year. There is an urgency to solve this problem.
What do you wish people understood about homelessness in L.A.?
I wish people were more optimistic about solving homelessness. Elected officials and community leaders are working on short- and long-term solutions to this complicated issue. Short-term solutions include food assistance, temporary shelter and rapid rehousing, all of which help those who need immediate assistance. Long-term solutions, like building more housing and providing services to transition chronically-homeless individuals back into housing, will take time but will be a permanent solution. It took many years for the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles to get to this point, and it will take us time to fix it. But together, we can do it.
Why do you take part in the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count?
The count is important because it measures the progress we have made in addressing homelessness and housing insecurity in Los Angeles. Good solutions are based on good data, and the Homeless Count provides data that we can use to identify the needs are of this population and determine how to create the most efficient and effective solutions. Personally, I volunteer for the Homeless Count because I get to walk around in neighborhoods and focus on how many homeless individuals there are. To my surprise, I see so many more than I would normally see if I was driving. It reminds me why I get involved and motivates me to continue our work in addressing this issue.
Do you have any advice for people who want to volunteer?
I recommend that everyone volunteer for the Count. It is an experience that will help you connect with our brothers and sisters who live on the street. We all have a part in ending homelessness, and the more people that are aware of the issue, the more supporters we will have to fix it.
This year’s Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count takes place from January 22-24, 2019. To find out how you can volunteer, visit theycountwillyou.org
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