Earlier this summer, the 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count results showed a 10% rise in the city. This has occurred despite the State of California spending more than $17 billion to combat homelessness between 2018 and 2022.
Public funding efforts in California have often been focused on short-term solutions rather than addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. Emergency shelters and temporary housing options are necessary for immediate relief, yet they do not provide a sustainable path out of a recurring cycle of hopelessness.
While increased government funding for certain crises is often crucial, it is equally important to acknowledge the unique role that people of faith can play in addressing the issue of homelessness. Through core values of compassion, love and empathy — which are central to the teachings of Jesus I might add — we are best equipped with the foundation to provide long-term solutions that transcend mere financial support.
Faith communities understand that homelessness is not just a physical issue but a complex web of personal, social and economic challenges. By recognizing the inherent dignity of every human being, people of faith can create an environment of compassion, fostering the belief that everyone deserves support and a chance to rebuild their lives.
For example, at the Dream Center’s Transitional Housing Program for families and foster youth, we provide not only furnished rooms, three meals a day, toiletries and clothing, but we also provide people with counseling and social skills to help them live life more independently one day.
Residents also have access to educational and vocational opportunities and the chance to form meaningful relationships with a caring community. We provide job readiness, budgeting classes, and even tutoring for high school diplomas and GEDs.
But we also encourage residents to participate in group activities, group meals, regular meetings with a mentor and even volunteer opportunities to help them improve their confidence and collaboration within a community with a common goal.
Another way to understand this: we provide a home-like setting where individuals can heal, grow and thrive. And more critically, we acknowledge that we are serving individuals who have a soul. A soul can be wounded, leaving more than simply physical and financial problems to be remedied.
Consider Jillian, who has come to us more than once looking for help. Jillian was placed in the foster care system at just 3 months old. She was adopted at the age of 5, but from ages 3 to 14 she experienced abuse.
"Because of this abuse," Jillian told us recently, "I spent my teen years searching for belonging and love, mostly in places and people I had no business associating with. I experienced drug addiction, rape and various kinds of abuse from an array of people."
In her late teens, she had her own apartment for two years soon after she gave birth to her daughter. But then came the COVID-19 crisis, and her time in the foster system ended simultaneously. "I became financially unstable," Jillian added. While also enduring abuse from an ex-partner, she was left with no outside help or family. Depression and anxiety kicked in, and Jillian said she began to cut everyone out of her life.
But after attempting to live in her car, here she was able to finally find refuge, and was even able to continue her college education. "I feel beyond grateful to have safety for myself and my daughter," Jillian wrote, "and a great support system as I process my internal battles."
Jillian’s situation is not unique, sadly. Within 18 months of emancipation, nearly 50% of former foster youth become homeless.
Yet a well-meaning local official will often meet someone like our friend Jillian and simply consider her homeless. But the root problem is not homelessness; it’s hopelessness. Everyone I’ve encountered here, including myself and my own family members, must have hope to propel forward in life.
No amount of funding, resources, skills, or talents will outweigh the fundamental need to understand you are loved, you are wanted, and your life has a purpose. Restoration and transformation are non-negotiable elements in the quest for a permanent solution to homelessness.
The silver lining in all of this is that faith communities have the ability to mobilize their congregations toward meaningful action. By raising awareness, fostering understanding and dispelling misconceptions surrounding homelessness, we consistently inspire our members to actively participate in addressing the crisis. Tapping into the inherent generosity and goodwill of our congregants, we have created a groundswell of support that extends far beyond the walls of our place of worship.
As this crisis here in LA continues to escalate, people of faith must recognize their power to change the status quo. Together, we can work towards a Los Angeles where homelessness is not just managed but eradicated, fostering a society that reflects every individual’s inherent worth and dignity.