People walk past a homeless encampment in downtown Los Angeles in 2018. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Granada Hills Charter High School

Opinion: The race against homelessness

As you wait for the red light to turn green, a man sitting on the curb catches your eye, but you quickly turn away because once you make eye contact, it’s game over. You turn back to face the road, but suddenly, you hear a knock on your window.

You turn to the man as though you’ve just noticed him, and slowly begin to take in the unshaven chin, chapped lips, tangled and matted hair, and ragged clothing. He holds a cardboard sign in one hand and shakes his cup in the other, signaling you to roll down the car window to request for some spare change, even if it’s just a few coins.

As you scan the man’s face, it becomes evident that an exhausted expression has nearly replaced the spark in his eye that’s still faintly there. Your heart starts to soften for the poor man, so you roll down the window and drop a bill or two into his cup. 

This is Los Angeles — 41,290 homeless people live in the city of L.A., a substantial 16.1% increase from the prior year, according to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Los Angeles continues to suffer at the hands of homelessness and appears to have no end in sight. But where does homelessness begin? 

A growing problem in L.A. is housing shortages, which causes the prices of homes to skyrocket. Los Angeles is one of the most expensive cities to live in worldwide and 92% of homes are too costly for an average citizen, according to a 2018 LAist article.

According to LAHSA, “Homelessness starts rising when median rents in a region exceed 22% of median income and rises even more sharply at 32%; in Los Angeles, the median rent is 46.7% or nearly half of median income.”

According to a press release for the New York Times with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, housing affordability is the greatest factor driving homelessness.

Increases in housing prices force many households to spend the majority of their income on rent, ultimately leading to a rise in homelessness.

Garcetti fights to confront the crisis by increasing funding, expanding the number of houses in Los Angeles, and focusing on legislation that would slow the skyrocketing rent prices, according to the New York Times in 2019.

Garcetti’s proposal is effective because one family at a time is receiving a home, but this is not enough. 

Common prejudices against homeless people are that they are a nuisance and comfortable with where they are. However, there are people within the homeless population whom housed people rarely get to see: the ones who are trying to escape the world of homelessness and move on to fit into society. 

One representative of this group is Jazmin Castillo, a 25-year-old mother of three. Castillo lives in one of the family shelters developed by Hope of the Valley, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to aid the ones in need. This shelter is an actual home that blends in with the neighborhood, holding multiple rooms to shelter multiple families. The purpose of the house is to stay camouflaged because this shelter specializes in taking in mothers escaping abusive relationships. 

Although Castillo’s life in a shelter is different and unrelatable to many, a large group within the homeless community still share similar views, concerns, perspectives, responsibilities, and even dreams. 

Castillo’s views of family have changed over time. As a teenager, family was not as important in her life because her parents wanted her to become a different version of who she considered herself to be. However, becoming a mother of three boys has drastically changed her priorities. 

Every parent worries about their children’s education and the skills and habits they learn to succeed, for instance. As a parent, the success of her children is the source of her joy.

“The world doesn’t revolve around attending high school, receiving diplomas, and getting good jobs. Kids need to learn how to work and save your money to get what you want,” Castillo said. 

People of all ages have different responsibilities in their families. Parents do their very best to raise their children into proper adults. However, life does not always deal the easiest cards. 

“Paying rent is the hardest thing. Imagine not having to worry about paying rent or bills,” Castillo states. 

The values Castillo carries in life are no different to the ones society believes in. Castillo also shows extreme gratitude for her children and is proud of her accomplishments as a mother in raising them to become who they are today. 

“l want my boys to see that their mom never gave up and pushed through even during hard times, that I had faith,” Castillo said.

People tend to mock the homeless, but those actively struggling to climb out of poverty and homelessness exist. Castillo represents the minority of the homeless who are hidden from the public eye.

They are so close to the finish line of escaping homelessness, yet even closer to returning to the streets of where they started. The homeless minority, like Castillo, represents the hope of the future for the homeless. The homeless must be seen, heard, and provided opportunities that many take for granted, and we must do our part to help them begin their trek out of poverty.