Homelessness in a growing economy Homelessness in a growing economy
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Homelessness in a growing economy

    NHK Los Angeles Bureau
    Producer
    While the U.S. economy continues to grow, homelessness in the country is also increasing. In 2018, Gross Domestic Product exceeded $20 trillion for the first time. The most recent statistics on homelessness put the number at 567,715, with 27 percent in California and nearly 59,000 people in Los Angeles county alone.

    According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, only 29 percent of homeless people in Los Angeles county have a mental illness or a problem with substance abuse. Economic factors, rather than personal factors, are pushing people there into homelessness.

    Georgia Berkovich is director of public affairs for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Midnight Mission. She says the lack of affordable housing in the city is the main barrier to homeless people trying to get off the streets.

    “Many people who live in Los Angeles are just a paycheck away from being homeless," she said. "The cost of living here is off the charts. People are becoming homeless more quickly than we can get them housed."

    Just a small increase in rent could drive many in the city into homelessness, according to statistics compiled by Zillow Group, a housing and rentals company. It projects that 11,000 more people will be out on the streets if the share of their income taken by rent rises by five percent.

    Skid Row Area in LA
    Skid Row near downtown Los Angeles is one of the largest stable populations of homeless people in the United States.

    Economic factors are driving homelessness in other California cities and across the country as well, according to Teresa Smith, founder and CEO of Dreams for Change, an NGO that assists homeless people in San Diego county. She said the effects of the financial crash and recession of 2008 are still being felt today.

    "When we went into the recession, what we originally saw in our clients was, they lost their job, lost their home because of the recession," she said. "What happened alongside that is...they stopped building. We were in a recession...housing pretty much ceased to be built."

    Dreams for Change runs the "Safe Parking Lot" program in the San Diego region, where people living in their cars can park and sleep through the night without worrying about crime or trouble from the police.

    Safe Parking Lot
    Dreams for Change runs safe parking lots for homeless people sleeping in their cars.

    Kelly Woodward lives in an RV on one of the lots. She had to move out of the house she was living in after her landlord sold the property and the rent increased. She said there is no possibility that she could ever afford to pay rent by herself in San Diego, and that she's hoping to find someone else living on the lot to share an apartment with.

    "My next future plan is to get rid of the RV and get my own place. That's my goal," she said. "I might go halves on an apartment with one of the ladies here, you know, because that's the only way to do it here in San Diego. You have to team up."

    Smith says people who believe homelessness is caused by drug abuse or mental illness are mistaken.

    "It is often seen as a personal issue, and the reality is, it's a system issue," she said. "It can really impact anyone, especially anyone in the rental market at this point in time."