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Gentrification and Dislocation of Los Angeles' Urban Poor Leading to Homelessness

Aerial view of Los Angeles, California

Known for being a city of extremes, Los Angeles has an extremely high homeless population. In 2013, it was estimated that 54,000 individuals were homeless within Los Angeles County. Government officials are still uncertain as to whether that number is an accurate estimate due to the difficulty of conducting a complete survey of the population. Many homeless individuals were missed in the survey as there are not enough shelters to count, and many homeless individuals are located in inconspicuous places.

From an urban planning perspective, accounting for the homeless population has been a struggle for many years. Beginning in the 1970's, organizations like SRO Housing Corporation and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have been working on housing the homeless in LA. Despite the efforts of various organizations, the issue of homelessness in LA has remained a large and concerning issue. Alice Callaghan, a long time Skid Row activist in LA sums up her experience by saying, "City Hall in LA doesn't seem to give much apparent thought to the human dimension of gentrification and dislocation of the poor," pointing to the fact that there are about half of the total number of affordable housing units in Skid Row today than there were in the late 1980's.

Sign that says

Strategies for dealing with the homeless have consistently relied on relocation and criminalization, so much so that some cities, like Lancaster, is considering closing their Metrolink station to prevent the homeless from travelling there. The combination of shifting the homeless to different places through policing, as well as a lack of funds from organizations, is seriously hindering the city's capabilities in dealing with a large homeless population. Consider this: in 2011, Governor Jerry Brown made the decision to cut funding to nearly 400 municipal redevelopment agencies as part of a budget plan that would save $1.7 billion for funding education and local services. Somewhere in the mash-up, the Los Angeles City Council voted to spend $52 million of redevelopment funds to construct a parking garage for a museum and dedicated only $32 million of the entire budget for all of South LA.

Taking care of the homeless population requires a fundamental change in traditional tactics – as one police officer commented, "We can't arrest our way out of this problem. It doesn't change the alcohol abuse, narcotics abuse and mental health issues." Obviously, homelessness is a complex issue, yet the simplest solution that planning can seemingly provide is more affordable housing units. However, when the mindset that the finances are better spent on other public programs, what capacities do we have to help the homeless?

Do you think that affordable housing is part of the solution for homelessness? How does your city help or cope with homelessness? Share your city's stories in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Victor Tran. Data linked to sources.