Paradise Lost: Homelessness in Los Angeles

Eric Johnson is the Seattle reporter who produced the Seattle is Dying special on homelessness back in March. This week, Johnson released a follow-up of sorts focused on the homeless problem in Los Angeles. This report isn’t nearly as long but it tells a similar story. Johnson says the signs of homelessness in LA look very familiar to anyone from Seattle but the scale of what is happening downtown in LA’s Skid Row is worse than anything he’s seen before:

Dr. Drew Pinsky puts it this way. “We have not seen conditions for humans like this since Medieval times. Period. And that’s a fact.”…

Andy Bales, the CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, looks out his window down into Skid Row. “There’s over a thousand registered sex offenders on the streets of Skid Row,” he says. “This place is like a Petri dish for disease.”

He would know. A few years ago he passed out bottles of water to the people he serves. In the process, he contracted three different kinds of deadly bacteria – E. coli, strep and staph. It cost him his leg.

He rolls up his pants to show us his prosthetic.

“Skid Row is the worst man-made disaster in the United States,” he says. “By far.”

Last year, Los Angeles spent more than half a billion dollars to combat the homelessness problem. The city also secured $1.2 billion in bonds for low-income housing just over two years ago and although several projects are underway, not a single new home has become available so far. At best a few hundred (in a city of 4 million people) apartments could be available by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, trash is allowed to pile up in Skid Row, something Mayor Eric Garcetti recently blamed on businesses dumping illegally. So why has the city failed to respond to resident’s and business owner’s complaints about the trash for weeks at a time? That’s time during which rats are moving in and feasting on the food scraps. The rats, specifically the fleas living on the rats, spread diseases like typhus and, more recently, typhoid. All of this is happening in a part of the city where an estimated 4,000 people are living on the street. It’s a recipe for disaster.

This is definitely worth a watch to get a sense of the scope of the problem in Los Angeles.