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The Homeless, Downtown Los Angeles

David Thomas | California, United States

This person's sleeping area at night is isolated and vulnerable. He has separated himself from nearby skid-row where many homeless congregate for comradeship, safety in numbers and availability of social services.

Los Angeles County is the homeless capital of the United States. Prior to the current recession there were about 73,000 homeless people in the county. . One-third of the total were chronically homeless because of severe ongoing disabilities such as chronic health problems, mental illness and addiction. There are individuals who have been homeless 10, 20, even 30 years. Their "emergencies",( jail bookings, emergency hospitalizations, etc) cost so much money that there is even less funding for services for all the other homeless.  Forty percent of the homeless are  women, youth and children!  Unfortunately, many of our homeless are also veterans.

Los Angeles’s “skid-row”,  less than a mile from City Hall, has about 2,000 – 3,000 homeless.

I took my first picture of a homeless family living on a busy street in downtown Bogota, Colombia over 40 years ago where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I remember thinking how glad I was that my country didn't have poverty as bad as that.  I never would have dreamed that the number of homeless people on our nation's streets was much higher than I thought and  would grow dramatically in the decades to come.

I became a "street photographer" in Colombia because I wanted to record the lives and customs of its people.  After two years working in rural community development I left Colombia with an increased awareness of the plight of the poor and the need for greater social justice.   Returning to the states I got a masters degree in social work and spent the next 30 years working in non-profit organizations as a community organizer, social worker, program administrator and information systems manager.

Nearing retirement, my encounters with the homeless on South Broadway of Los Angeles resurrected my interest in street photography and the homeless.  I hope that my photography can educate and involve members of the public into doing more to help.

Statistics are from the following sources:

United Way of Greater Los Angeles and...

Zocalo:  The Public Square, "Can L.A. Solve Homelessness", May 27, 2009.

When the latest "Homeless Census of Los Angeles County" is completed those new statistics will be used to update this site.

For more information about United Way and the homeless please go to ... http://www.unitedwayla.org/home-for-good/

For information about how New York City, Washington D.C and Los Angeles are fighting homelessness listen to the following podcast:  Zocalo:  The Public Square, "Can L.A. Solve Homelessness", May 27, 2009 available at http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/archives_2009.php?event_id=297


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