About People Experiencing Homelessness

  1. How many people are homeless in Los Angeles?
  2. Why does a person become homeless?
  3. Who are the people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles?
  4. Why can’t a person experiencing homelessness just get a job?
  5. How is welfare reform affecting people experiencing homelessness and the Mission?

1. How many people are homeless in L.A.?

51,340 people experience homelessness each night in L.A. County.

Source of Information (Source: http://www.lahsa.org/docs/2011-Homeless-Count/FINAL-LAHSA-One-Sheet.pdf)

2. Why does a person become homeless?

People become homeless for a variety of reasons:

  • Poverty
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Physical/mental illness or disability
  • Substance abuse
  • Job loss or decline in income
  • Domestic violence and abuse
  • Unemployment
  • Prison release
  • Downturn in the economy
  • Changes and cuts in public assistance programs
  • Family deterioration/abandonment
  • Years of institutional living (mental health, drug treatment, prison, foster care, etc.)

Childhood Roots
For many people, the roots of homelessness began in childhood. Some children grew up never seeing anyone in their household go to work every day. The only money they saw coming into the house was through a check from the government or some kind of illegal activity. Many became addicted to drugs or alcohol before they could even drive a car. They may have very limited skills, education, family support, and understanding of what it means to be independent.

Successful Lives Derailed
There are others who have lived very successful lives — individuals with graduate degrees, impressive careers, families, and property. Somewhere along the line, their lives have been derailed by some unexpected or traumatic loss, hardship, or crisis. They are overwhelmed by a sense of failure, guilt, or grief. Many turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, which can easily lead to addiction. Eventually, most become so full of shame they would rather hide on the streets than reach out for help.

Vulnerable Women and Children
The saddest situation we see is women and children. The numbers of women and children turning to us for help have increased over the past several years. Lack of low-income housing options — coupled with disintegrating family relationships — can have a traumatic effect. The average woman suffers a dramatic drop in income when a relationship ends, with many fathers failing to pay child support.

3. Who are the people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles?

  • 24% are living in families
  • 56% are adult men
  • 24% are adult women
  • 15% are children under 18
  • 31% are mentally ill
  • 12% are veterans

Source: Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 2007 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count: Executive Summary. 2007. 2.

4. Why can’t a person experiencing homelessness just get a job?

There could be several factors that contribute to someone being unable to get a job. Here are some of the common problems we see — and the steps we take to help men and women overcome these challenges and find employment.

PROBLEM #1: He/She can’t read.
Many people experiencing homelessness are illiterate. They are unable to read “help wanted” ads or even fill out a job application.

SOLUTION: Through our Bank of America Learning Center, we help people experiencing homelessness improve their reading and other academic skills. Many of our students make great progress very quickly!

PROBLEM #2: He/She has no phone number or address.
Job applicants need a way for potential employers to contact them. But that’s only part of the problem. Enrolling a child in school, applying for appropriate aid, or even filling out a rental application all require an address.

SOLUTION: Union Rescue Mission provides an address and contact phone number for men and women in our emergency shelter and recovery programs.

PROBLEM #3: He/She has no job or life skills.
Employees need job skills — as well as relational skills — to get along with bosses, coworkers, and customers. People experiencing homelessness who come from dysfunctional backgrounds often have neither.

SOLUTION:  Through the life and job skills classes offered in our programs and learning center, we help these men and women develop the skills they desperately need to succeed.

PROBLEM #4: He/She has mental health or addiction issues.
Severe depression, crippling addiction, and other problems like these often prevent people experiencing homelessness from being successfully employed.

SOLUTION: Through our biblically based 12-step program, our long-term residential Recovery Programs, and our Mental Health Clinic,  we can help men and women make significant progress to help them cope with or even overcome their issues.

PROBLEM #5: He/She has no clean clothes or place to shower.
Being clean and presentable is a must for job interviews. But it can be difficult to manage when you’re living in a cardboard box or under a bridge.

SOLUTION: Union Rescue Mission provides showers and clean clothing for all of our guests. Before a job interview, we make sure a man or woman has appropriate, professional attire from head to toe.

5. How is welfare reform affecting people experiencing homelessness and the Mission?

When welfare reform was passed in 1996, it granted state governments the freedom to craft their own welfare systems. Today, local government agencies across the country continue to grapple with the issue of how to best help the poor without creating dependency.

In Los Angeles, we are seeing more men, women, and families come to URM due to financial cutbacks in General Relief (L.A. County’s cash and food stamp system). With the implementation of a five-year lifetime cap on receiving welfare, we anticipate an even greater number of people seeking our services.