LA County’s homeless problem is full of black faces

LOS ANGELES–Representation is going to be crucial when it comes to dividing up the $3.55 billion windfall that is expected to come over the next decade after Measure H was approved by voters back in March.

The faith community from various parts of the county came together at the Interfaith Summit on Homelessness at the California Endowment on Wednesday, June 7, to see how their community fit into the plans of getting part of that financial pie to combat the homeless issue.

However, there was one major component missing from the three and a half-hour dialogue, which included a personal testimony from a once homeless mother, remarks by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and a panel discussion.

Statistics of the black homeless population in Los Angeles County should be pause for concern for city officials and how they go about addressing this matter. The fact is that there are 57,794 people living on the streets on any given night, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority-Los Angeles County Homeless Report 2017.

There are over 57,000 out on the streets in Los Angeles County every day. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

African Americans, who only make up eight percent of the county’s population, make up 40 percent (21,921) of those living on the streets, a number too staggering to overlook. There are more African Americans on the streets than any other ethnic group in Los Angeles County.

Yet, even at this faith-based summit, which encompassed a wide sector of religions and faiths, the makeup of those at the homelessness money table did not come close to the kind of representation that would adequately lend credence to allowing the voice of the black community to be heard.

Pastor Mike Grissom said there is no way of telling how that money will play out in trickling down to the black community, but said highly visible nonprofits such as the United Way for Greater Los Angeles, usually gets first consideration.

“There’s no way that we can say how much that the money is going to benefit our community, the black community,” Grissom said. “The organizations that receive the money that go into this city-Los Angeles-are usually United Way and people who have been established for a long time. What they do is they give the money to someone that have been in business, and they’re supposed to give that money back down to smaller organizations. It’s a friend-type thing. It’s like if I’m in your pocket and I’m in your pocket, then we’re probably going to work together.”           

Panelists Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard from the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement (CMCCE) and Veronica Lewis, division director at Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System (HOPICS) offered their opinions about solutions to ending the homeless problem.

Women make up 31 percent of the homeless population in Los Angeles County. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

“African Americans are disproportionally represented in the homeless population,” Lewis said. “We understand some of the unique needs of our men and women. It’s a like a sea of black men, unfortunately, when you go to Skid Row. Even though I’m in this work, it turns my stomach every time I go downtown. I think we are pretty well represented in many cases, in terms of the nonprofit sector. In the county and city offices, there could be a little bit more representation.”      

The portfolio breakdown given to those in attendance did not even mention those demographic groups hit hard by the homeless situation. Instead, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ 50-member panel will determine how the money will be spent, in terms of services-the county’s planning areas of attacking the homeless plight, agencies representing those areas, and a general assessment of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, were among the items highlighted.

Homeless encampments are highly visible in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Missing from the panel discussions was representation from some of the largest black churches in the city that have highly influential pastors.

That would include mega-churches such as West Los Angeles, First A.M.E., City of Refuge, and Crenshaw Christian Center. Trinity Baptist Church Associate Pastor Rev. Alexander L Warthen can identify with the plight of the homeless. After a fire burned down his home in 1990, Warthen found himself out on the streets. Unless you’ve walked in those shoes, it is difficult to comprehend what it is like to be homeless, he said.   

“Most of the people aren’t worried about losing their homes,” Wharthen said. “They have their homes. They have their property. They’re already settled. They’re just trying to find something to do. I’m not saying that everbody’s like that. But I’ve been homeless. Unless you’ve been there, you really can’t help someone, but you can bring a desire. They need to move this from paperwork and symposiums to go out and do it. They’re coming together, but’s like moving chairs on the Titanic.”    

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has laid out a three-year proposed plan on how the money will be spent. The adopted proposal would see $258 million allotted, an upgrade to $374 million in the second year, with an increase to $431 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The biggest chunk of those funds would go to improving the emergency shelter system and the expansion of rapid rehousing. Every city within the county is going to want a piece of that financial pie. Malibu has recently claimed an 18 percent uptick in its homeless problem.

But when it comes to sheer volume and numbers, the Metro area of Los Angeles County has the biggest number of people on the streets. Over 15,000 people in Metro Los Angeles call the streets home, an increase of 30 percent from last year.

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