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L.A. homeless camps expand beyond skid row

By
Brooks Hays
A view of Skid Row in L.A. Photo by Jorobeq/CC.
A view of Skid Row in L.A. Photo by Jorobeq/CC.

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Homelessness has been on the rise across the United States for several years now, and the trend is manifesting itself in the proliferation of homeless encampments in some America's major cities.

The phenomenon is especially pronounced in Los Angeles, where homeless camps are now popping and spreading in new parts of the city -- leaving behind their traditional confinement to downtown's Skid Row.

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A new report by the Los Angeles Times claims complaint calls to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency, rose 60 percent from 2013 to 2014. The agency reportedly fielded 767 calls last year -- proof, some say, that the city's homeless problem is being exported to neighboring communities like Echo Park and South Los Angeles.

Social workers say that while some homeless people have been pushed out of downtown, the driving force in the founding and populating of new homeless camps is poverty. High rent and staggering wages in places like Highland Park and Boyle Heights has pushed renters onto the streets. Poverty and homelessness are in many ways localized, they say.

"Homeless people, especially the mentally ill, they don't like new," Gina Chovan, a senior officer with the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division, told the L.A. Times. "They want to stay where they know all the nooks and crannies."

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But efforts to sanitize stretches of downtown Los Angeles -- where real estate development continues to move into and remake new parts of the city -- certainly plays a role.

"Now that we're fixing up our communities, we're actually seeing a problem that's been there in plain sight for decades," Chovan added. "Gentrification just brought it to light."

The problem isn't just L.A.'s. Cities all across the United States are seeing an uptick in homelessness and homeless shelters. Homeless camps are propagating in places like San Jose and Honolulu. Even in smaller cities like Boise, homeless camps grow every spring and summer as the weather warms.

In Seattle, the Mayor Ed Murray has proposed a unique temporary solution: he wants his city to fund and regulate three new homeless tent cities. His administration recently asked the city council for authorization to carry out what he sees as a stopgap measure.

"Permitted encampments are not, in my view, a long-term strategy to end homelessness," Murray told reporters at a recent news conference. "But organized encampments have less impact on our neighborhoods and provide a safer environment than what we see on our streets today."

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With city and state funding for homeless services in short supply, a makeshift tent under a bridge is routinely the best and only option for men and women who find themselves on the streets.

Of course, not every city is as friendly as Seattle. Many municipalities are moving in the opposite direction of Murray, passing legislation that bans homeless encampments.

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