Growing up and living in Los Angeles, there are few days I can recall when I did not see an individual affected by homelessness.
Homelessness has been an issue within the United States since the first European settlers landed here, but became a severe issue during the 1980s when the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made significant housing cuts. Los Angeles is no exception, as the homeless population rose 55 percent from 2013 to 2015, leaving 12,536 people on the street. The city is commonly dubbed the homeless capital of the world. Although this issue has become a pervasive problem, the city proposed plans, but has not implemented any of the solutions. When citizens created tiny homes for some members of the homeless population, the city seized the homes.
Since high school, I have worked with people affected by homelessness in some capacity. From Urban Plunges, where I spent a weekend on Skid Row, to being a current member of the MAGIS (Men Acting Genuinely in Service) Service Organization at Loyola Marymount University, to the Blessed Sacrament Church, where I volunteer once a week packaging food for individuals who are in need.
As I became familiar with the regulars, I took the time to learn about their stories in an attempt to understand what had driven them to homelessness. Each time I interact with someone similar in age to me, a jolt runs through my body as I realize that only a few circumstances changed the paths that we were on. Many of them share a similar story of either searching to start a career, or leaving their home without the support of their parents. In both stories, though, these people wind up on their own. A person who is homeless does not fit any specific bill; both the young and the old fall victim.
Currently, there are over 20,000 Millennials who suffer from homelessness, making up 38 percent of the homeless population in Los Angeles County. While it may be difficult to assess all of the circumstances that make these numbers so, what is certain is that a lack of affordable housing does not help to address the cause.
Why don’t Millennials go search for a job instead of asking for handouts on the street? As young people, we face a 40 percent higher unemployment rate than the national unemployment rate, and this disparity is even wider for youth of color. Moreover, Millennials are dealing with stagnant wages and rising debt levels. College graduates today have, on average, over $37,000 in debt—giving these individuals little money for everyday necessities let alone the financial capability to purchase their own house or car.
With this in mind, how can we expect an individual to feel comfortable enough to search for a job when their next meal isn’t a guarantee? Where will they will sleep? And bathe?
If nothing is done to address rampant unemployment among youth, stagnant wages, and the lack of affordable housing, homelessness will continue to plague Millennials in Los Angeles County.