Community leaders try to combat L.A. homelessness

Daily Sundial

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To some, the issue of homelessness and hunger is seen through the “not in my backyard” perspective, but it remains a problem that many organizations and politicians work to fight in Los Angeles.

In late October, a forum called “A Blueprint to End Hunger” was held where organizations such as Bread for the World, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness, and the Valley Interfaith Council’s Social Concerns Committee met with the public to discuss the issues of hunger and homelessness.

California Rep. Hilda Solis, D–32nd District, and California State Sen. Richard Alarcon, D–20th District, were also in attendance.

“Residents need to educate themselves on the issue – don’t oppose homeless programs in your community,” said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness. “Move from ‘not in my backyard’ to ‘yes in my backyard.’ ”

LACEHH has existed since 1985 and became a non-profit group in 1990. Member dues, donations and special events fund the organization.

LACEHH co-chairs “Bring Home L.A.” with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and they work to develop strategic plans to end homelessness in Los Angeles within the next 10 years, Erlenbusch said.

“Los Angeles is sadly the ‘homeless capital’ of the United States,” Erlenbusch said. “On any given night, there are about 91,000 homeless people. The San Fernando Valley has about 9 percent of the (L.A.) homeless population.”

Erlenbusch also said that the ratio of homeless people to beds is 11-to-1, and counting the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, homeless people could make the 17th largest city in the county.

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank is a private, non-profit organization that has existed for 32 years, and it has distributed food to about 1,000 charities throughout Los Angeles County that benefit abandoned and/or abused children in homes, battered women shelters, local food pantries and soup kitchens, said Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Executive Director Michael Flood.

Flood, who has been with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank for six years, said he agrees that homelessness and hunger are significant problems in Los Angeles.

What many may not know is that hunger may be an even greater problem than homelessness, since many that suffer from hunger may not be homeless, he said.

“One in 10 people in Los Angeles suffer from hunger,” Flood said.

Flood said he advises residents interested in helping to volunteer their time or donate food or funds, but most importantly to become educated and help amend public policy.

“The absence of a strong economy, affordable housing, health care, a living wage for workers and safety net for our most vulnerable populations are just a few of the reasons that people across the county face housing obstacles,” Solis said in an e-mail. “An estimated 254,000 men, women, and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County over the course of a year, while 91,000 people are homeless each night.”

In fighting homelessness, Solis said she strongly supports legislation to fund critical housing programs that have allowed the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission and Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles to serve low-income families in the area.

“For example, the Community Development Block Grants have been integral to the county’s efforts to revitalize low-income communities by increasing local employment opportunities, rehabilitating homes, and providing youth and senior services,” Solis said.

Community Development Block Grants have been implemented nationwide, but work on a large scale in Los Angeles County, where the program helps 2.2 million people, according to a website for the Los Angeles Community Development Commission, which provides the CDBG. The grants provide improvement in areas from housing to community preservation in low-income areas, and works with homeless shelters in the county.

The Section 8 voucher program also allows very low-income families to lease or purchase safe, decent and affordable privately-owned rental housing, while the Hope VI program provides funding to revitalize public housing, Solis said.

Ariana Rodriguez can be reached at ariana.rodriguez@csun.edu.