A surge in youth home­less­ness L.A. agency tal­lies a 61% in­crease, and one ad­vo­cate isn’t sur­prised

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Gale Hol­land

Dian­dre Pope said his mother dropped him off at a Hol­ly­wood youth shel­ter when he was 15, and he started to get into trou­ble.

Now 31, the Watts na­tive stays in an en­camp­ment on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, around the cor­ner from a pop­u­lar fit­ness club, si­phon­ing elec­tric­ity off a util­ity pole to power his tele­phone and sam­pling the ca­pa­cious of­fer­ings — taquitos to hot wings — from a nearby con­ve­nience store.

The Los An­ge­les Home­less Ser­vices Author­ity re­ported Wed­nes­day that 6,000 home­less young peo­ple like Pope were tal­lied across the county in Jan­uary, a 61% in­crease over the 2016 to­tal.

The home­less ser­vices agency im­proved the youth count, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Peter Lynn said, which could ac­count for part of the jump. But Heidi Cal­mus of Covenant House Cal­i­for­nia, an in­ter­na­tional youth home­less ser­vices agency with a branch in Hol­ly­wood, said the sharp in­crease was no sur­prise.

All the youth shel­ters have wait­ing lists, and af­ford­able hous­ing is tough to find even with a rent voucher, Cal­mus said.

“The sys­tem is over­whelmed,” Cal­mus said Tues­day night as she and a col­league, Nick Se­men­sky, de-

liv­ered toi­letry bags and sand­wiches to youths liv­ing on the streets.

Most of the young peo­ple are ages 18 to 24, Lynn said. Many were re­leased from foster care or group homes, or, like Pope, were set loose by their fam­i­lies.

They dis­trust author­ity and have no ap­petite for giv­ing up the free­dom of the streets for a reg­i­mented liv­ing sit­u­a­tion, Se­men­sky said.

“Emer­gency hous­ing is in­stantly avail­able on skid row, but they will have to be with older peo­ple and they may feel like they’re in the jail or prison they’ve al­ready been in,” Se­men­sky said. “And they say, ‘If I’m go­ing to be home­less, I might as well be home­less in L.A., it’s more ex­cit­ing.’ ”

Like Pope, they are on the street longer than in the past, Cal­mus said. Some have had bad ex­pe­ri­ences in home­less set­tings and now are run­ning out of op­tions, she added.

Mag­gie Reyes, 24, said she spent al­most a year at a youth shel­ter be­fore an­other woman started steal­ing her be­long­ings. She moved back with her mother, who has strug­gled to hold on to hous­ing.

Reyes is hop­ing to get her own sub­si­dized hous­ing be­fore the spe­cial ser­vices for young home­less peo­ple are cut off when she turns 25.

Michael Z., 24, said he was thrown out of his house af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school be­cause of his drink­ing and drug use. He said he no longer drinks and has fi­nally found a good job.

He asked that his last name not be used be­cause he has to con­ceal his home­less­ness from his em­ployer. Agen­cies try to help him with hous­ing, but land­ing a place ap­pears to be a dis­tant hope at best, he added.

“It takes so long to re­hab from the streets,” he said.

Reyes said the home­less youths she sees in the street are get­ting younger and younger.

“I’m al­ways run­ning into kids who say, ‘I’m re­ally 15’ and I’m like, ‘Why are you out here?’ They’re like, ‘My mom is a re­ally bad mom,’ ” Reyes said.

“Ev­ery year there are more com­ing than go­ing,” she said.

Chris­tian K. Lee Los An­ge­les Times

NICK SE­MEN­SKY, left, who works for Covenant House Cal­i­for­nia, an in­ter­na­tional youth home­less ser­vices agency, dis­trib­utes hy­giene items to Charles Stacks, 23, and Mar­quis Drew, 26, in Hol­ly­wood.

Chris­tian K. Lee Los An­ge­les Times

WHEN HE was 15, Dian­dre Pope was dropped off at a Hol­ly­wood youth shel­ter by his mother. Now 31, the Watts na­tive stays in an en­camp­ment on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard, around the cor­ner from a pop­u­lar fit­ness club. He siphons elec­tric­ity from a nearby power pole.

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