Homelessness Strains Compassion For Some Los Angeles Residents

Heard on NPR’s  All Things Considered ; 

Approximately 50,000 people are experiencing homelessness in and around L.A., according to the latest count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The vast majority of them live unsheltered on the streets. According to city officials and nonprofit leaders, there’s a growing frustration among L.A. residents who — despite the city’s big new investments in housing and services — continue to confront L.A.’s homeless crisis in their daily lives.

For the past few years, a man has been living on and off in the carport at Shannon Peace’s building near West Hollywood, Calif. For a while, he had an elaborate encampment right in front of her parking spot.

“He had a laptop. He had a bicycle,” she says. “And he used our storage bins.”

Still, Peace figured he wasn’t hurting anyone, and for a while she thought of the man as an unofficial neighbor. That is, until one day she came downstairs to get into her car, said her usual greeting and was met with a blank stare instead of the usual friendly ‘hello.’

“His eyes were glazed over and he was muttering to himself,” Peace says. “That was the point at which I went ‘OK, this is really a safety issue. This is somebody who potentially has mental illness — potentially has a substance abuse problem.'”

She called police, but the man still returns to the carport periodically. Peace says the experience has hardened her a little bit towards homeless people in general.

That feeling is uncomfortable for her to admit. As a kid growing up in L.A., Peace would beg her mother to give money to panhandlers. Now, she says, she’s less likely to interact with men and women on the streets than she used to be.

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