Latino home­less a ‘new phe­nom­e­non’

With thou­sands more liv­ing on L.A. County streets, a large de­mo­graphic sees a dis­pro­por­tion­ate ef­fect

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Es­mer­alda Ber­mudez and Ruben Vives

Ti­mo­teo Areva­los never imag­ined he’d end up here, loi­ter­ing for hours on a bench at Hol­len­beck Park in Boyle Heights, us­ing his back­pack as his pil­low.

He used to have a gov­ern­ment job, but the re­ces­sion hit and he was laid off. He then tried to scrape by as a dish­washer, but last fall his hours were cut and he couldn’t pay his rent.

Now, he is part of a ris­ing num­ber of Lati­nos who are liv­ing home­less in Los An­ge­les. Re­cent fig­ures re­leased by the county show that Latino home­less­ness shot up by 63% in the past year, a stag­ger­ing num­ber in a county that saw its over­all home­less pop­u­la­tion soar by 23%, de­spite in­creas­ing ef­forts to get peo­ple off the street.

Nearly ev­ery de­mo­graphic, in­clud­ing youth, fam­i­lies and veter­ans, showed in­creases in home­less­ness, but Lati­nos de­liv­ered one of the sharpest rises, ad­ding more than 7,000 peo­ple to the surge.

“I would say it’s a whole new phe­nom­e­non,”

said County Su­per­vi­sor Hilda So­lis, whose district saw Latino home­less­ness go up by 84%. “We have to put it on the radar and re­ally think out­side the box when we con­sider how to help this pop­u­la­tion.”

Home­less of­fi­cials and out­reach groups say Los An­ge­les’ ris­ing rents and stale wages are the main driv­ers push­ing many out of their homes.

Ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased by the Home­less Ser­vices Au­thor­ity, renters liv­ing in Los An­ge­les are the most cost-bur­dened na­tion­wide. More than 2 mil­lion house­holds in L.A. and Or­ange coun­ties have hous­ing costs that ex­ceed 30% of their in­come.

Lati­nos are par­tic­u­larly at risk, with many work­ing up to two to three low-pay­ing jobs to make ends meet. Those lack­ing le­gal sta­tus are more vul­ner­a­ble these days as they strug­gle to find work and avoid pub­lic as­sis­tance, which they fear could flag them for even­tual de­por­ta­tion.

“It’s like they live with one foot on a ba­nana peel and the other one step from home­less­ness,” said Rose Rios, who runs Cover the Home­less Min­istry, a South Los An­ge­les non­profit that feeds peo­ple in the streets, many of them Latino.

After Areva­los lost his gov­ern­ment job, he lived off his $70,000 sav­ings. When that dried up, he strug­gled to find a good-pay­ing job. Even­tu­ally he set­tled for a dish-wash­ing gig, but when the restau­rant cut back his hours last fall, he lost his Pico Rivera stu­dio apart­ment.

Now, he re­ceives $900 in un­em­ploy­ment, enough for food and clothes, but not to cover rent and bills. Most days, he sleeps in a se­cluded al­ley in Pico Rivera, not far from the roar of pass­ing trains and cargo trucks. To bathe, he goes to Roo­sevelt High School’s pub­lic pool.

“I’m frus­trated and sad,” Areva­los said. “Hav­ing to go up and down and start­ing over takes a lot out of you.”

Coun­ty­wide, an esti- mated 20% of Lati­nos live be­low the poverty level. Their av­er­age house­hold in­come is about $47,000. “This is a pop­u­la­tion that’s al­ready liv­ing un­der very dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances,” said USC so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Manuel Pas­tor. “When you in­crease rents, you re­ally start to see a big­ger im­pact.” In 2016, Lati­nos made up 27% of the county’s home­less pop­u­la­tion; that num­ber rose to 35% in the last year. The per­cent­age of white home­less peo­ple de­clined 2% in that time. Lati­nos make up about 48% of the county’s over­all pop­u­la­tion. African Amer­i­cans saw a slight in­crease in the num­ber of home­less, but while they make up 9% of L.A. County’s over­all pop­u­la­tion, they still rep­re­sent a dis­pro­por­tion­ate 40% of the county’s home­less. This year’s home­less count, con­ducted in Jan­uary, showed sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in the newly home­less, liv­ing in cars. home­less youth and These fig­ures seem to sup­port the idea that the surge in Latino home­less­ness is made up of work­ing poor who might have been priced out by the mar­ket, Pas­tor said. So­lis has no­ticed the dif­fer­ence as she drives around her district in East Los An­ge­les and parts of the San Gabriel Val­ley. She has seen more Lati­nos who ap­par­ently live in the riverbeds and free­way un­der­passes. The su­per­vi­sor said she hopes that the needs of home­less Lati­nos are taken into ac­count as funds from Propo­si­tion HHH and Mea­sure H are al­lo­cated over the next decade. The bal­lot mea­sures ap­proved by Los An­ge­les vot­ers in Novem­ber are ex­pected to pro­vide sev­eral bil­lion dol­lars in hous­ing, rent sub­si­dies and ser­vices to the home­less. “A lot of Lati­nos tend to come from tight-knit com­mu­ni­ties and don’t like talk­ing about how they’re strug­gling,” So­lis said. Many tend to not seek help from shel­ters and home­less out­reach cen­ters, such as the ones lo­cated in down­town L.A.’s skid row. They try to sub­sist, re­ly­ing on rel­a­tives, friends, churches, clin­ics, all while liv­ing out of their car or in the street.

“We need ser­vice providers who re­flect the com­mu­nity, who pro­vide com­pe­tent, cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion in Span­ish,” So­lis said.

At a church east of the Los An­ge­les River on a re­cent evening, nearly three dozen men sat around the court­yard, wait­ing for a warm meal and a place to spend the night. Most sleep in cots that line the church tem­ple, near the al­tar and by the doors.

The men, all Lati­nos and some of them lack­ing le­gal sta­tus, have been com­ing here for nearly 30 years to seek emer­gency shel­ter.

Among them was Mario Martinez, 48, from Gu­atemala. He came to the U.S. when he was 17 years old.

He worked in fac­to­ries and con­struc­tion sites, even­tu­ally land­ing a job as a man­ager of a fabric and tex­tile ware­house. He made $18 an hour.

Martinez, his girl­friend and their two chil­dren, ages 4 and 10, used to rent an apart­ment in Mon­te­bello for $1,400 a month.

“I had started from the bot­tom and worked my way up,” he said.

But life took a turn, and he and his girl­friend sep­a­rated. Five years ago, he lost his job.

Work since then has been tough to come by and it’s paid much less. When Martinez de­pleted his $15,000 in sav­ings a few months ago, he ended up in the street.

He hopes part-time work through an em­ploy­ment agency will help him get back into an apart­ment soon.

“I’m the kind of per­son who takes life as it comes,” Martinez said. “As long as you’re healthy and able to work and get sleep, you’re able to get back up.”

The church also pro­vides sim­i­lar as­sis­tance to Lati­nas. In other parts of the city, sev­eral dis­tricts that have ex­pe­ri­enced gen­tri­fi­ca­tion saw Latino home­less­ness rise. That in­cludes Coun­cil­man Gil Cedillo’s 1st District, where there was a 79% in­crease.

District 1 in­cludes densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods such as Pico-Union and West­lake, where many poor fam­i­lies crowd into high-rise apart­ments. The area’s prox­im­ity to down­town has made it en­tic­ing for devel­op­ers in re­cent years, push­ing rents up for many peo­ple.

At the cen­ter of West­lake, MacArthur Park has be­come a go-to des­ti­na­tion for home­less from across the re­gion.

Their tents are spread across the 32-acre park, cre­at­ing an end­less cy­cle that doesn’t ease de­spite weekly out­reach ef­forts con­ducted by Cedillo’s of­fice and nu­mer­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“The prob­lem is a lack of suf­fi­cient hous­ing stock,” Cedillo said. “Peo­ple are very com­pas­sion­ate and con­cerned about the home­less, but what we need to do is get out of the devel­op­ers’ way and be­gin to cre­ate a process so peo­ple can build, and neigh­bors need to em­brace this.”

In 2009, Rebecca Prine founded Re­cy­cled Re­sources for the Home­less, a non­profit out­reach group that con­nects the home­less to hous­ing and pro­vides ba­sic ser­vices, such as free laun­dry on Wed­nes­day nights.

In the win­ters, the or­ga­ni­za­tion opens a shel­ter, the only one in the neighborhood.

This past year, Prine said, the shel­ter was filled mostly with Lati­nos. Many of them held full-time jobs but couldn’t af­ford rent. Oth­ers were older res­i­dents with fixed in­comes.

“From one year to the next,” Prine said, “the face of home­less­ness changed for us.”

Pho­to­graphs by Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

TI­MO­TEO AREVA­LOS, 55, rests in Hol­len­beck Park in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los An­ge­les on June 6. Areva­los, who has been home­less for a few months, spends days in the park near where he grew up.

HOME­LESS MEN, most of them Lati­nos who lack le­gal sta­tus, share a meal at a fa­cil­ity that also of­fers shel­ter in Los An­ge­les.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

GELACIO BARRAZA, 42, pre­pares to bed down for the night at a Los An­ge­les fa­cil­ity that of­fers shel­ter to the home­less. A large per­cent­age of the home­less who stay there are Lati­nos who lack le­gal sta­tus.

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