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Living Homeless in California

Living Homeless in California: Daily Needs, Lasting Scars

For 10 days Capital & Main will look at homelessness through the eyes of the homeless – specifically, by seeing how they meet basic everyday needs.

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Illustration: Define Urban

Unlike solutions to many other social crises, ending homelessness will require an act of epic restoration – returning America to a time when we did not have to daily step around tents sheltering the destitute, or look past the outstretched hands of the hungry. Yet there are signs of hope in California and elsewhere, for the editorial chorus of concern about this seemingly intractable problem has lately been accompanied by political actions that have seen voters raise taxes to fund housing and court rulings blocking cities from literally sweeping away the problem with bulldozers.

For the next 10 days Capital & Main will look at homelessness through the eyes of the homeless – specifically, by seeing how they meet basic everyday needs, the fulfillment of which most of us take for granted. We will cite some familiar statistics in the policy discussions that accompany each story, but this series’ main goal is to let readers know exactly how difficult it is for their fellow Californians to find a place to sleep at night, to find food or even to go to the bathroom in safety.

  • Kelly Candaele explores the plight of the shelterless as seen by homeless veterans.
  • Gustavo Arellano hears a Santa Ana riverbed “Lost Boy” explain “freeganism” and the science of dumpster diving.
  • Jason McGahan talks to residents on Los Angeles’ Skid Row who use “spotters” to keep criminals from preying on them inside porta-potties. A followup policy story looks at government and nonprofit efforts to alleviate a hygiene crisis.
  • Gabriel Thompson visits Humboldt State University, where, according to one survey, nearly one-fifth of the students have experienced homelessness at least once in the past year.
  • Matt Tinoco looks at how hard it is to find and hold down a job when you don’t have an address.
  • Dean Kuipers describes the redemptive powers of a hot shower and clean clothes on homeless people fortunate enough to connect with Lava Mae’s portable facilities.
  • Larry Buhl follows a team of Venice Family Clinic professionals as they seek out homeless men in need of both medical and mental health care.

Other stories include homeless policy overviews by Judith Lewis MernitBobbi Murray and Bill Raden, along with profiles by Pandora Young, who encounters the joy of homeless people with their pets, and Kerry Candaele, who reflects on the death of a homeless man.

Although these writers tell us how bad it is on the streets, they also spell out what experiments have been launched to help America’s most helpless. Their narratives will challenge the assumption that the homeless are “other people” – showing, instead, that they may be colleagues we once worked with, or neighbors who suddenly went away.


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