It’s hard to believe that homelessness still rises to a crisis level in so many places across the U.S. And it pains me to see the crisis grow even worse in my home state of California.
In Los Angeles County, my own backyard, the homeless population has grown to almost 59,000 people this year. That’s a 12 percent increase from last year.
Some 75 percent of these individuals are spending all day and all night outside, without proper sanitation. This is now raising concerns of an impending health crisis as well.
Los Angeles County spent $619 million last year in an effort to combat homelessness. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been faithfully working to address this problem and has announced additional resources that will be provided, including 7,000 new housing units and 2,000 shelter beds.
People across the state are grieving for those affected. The money spent on temporary housing and short-term rental subsidy programs is a step in the right direction and I’m glad to know our leaders care deeply about those who need help the most.
I’m the co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple. For the past 25 years the Los Angeles Dream Center – a faith-based nonprofit – has worked to transform the lives of individuals and families in need through residential and outreach programs.
From my experience, I know it’s going to take a lot more than the right amount of funding, meeting immediate needs and our best intentions. This applies to my state and every state.
Deep down, what every homeless neighbor needs is a cheerleader. They need a consistent, unwavering champion encouraging them every step of the way, offering endless grace through every stumble, no matter how long their journey to stability.
The reality is a painful cycle that needs to be addressed as well. Many of the folks who receive assistance and generosity in many forms end up back in a position where they’re spending night after night sleeping in tents, under bridges and along the road.
To break this cycle of defeat, it takes a personal touch and a relationship with those in need. It truly takes a village. That means a unified community willing to do the hard work of building relationships with those who need help – people willing to offer the homeless a paradigm shift and renew their hearts and minds.
Homeless people need role models and mentors to serve as examples to follow on the path out of hardship and into stability.
Conquering homelessness and arriving at change that endures also requires persistence and dedication. There’s no quick and simple fix.
These neighbors of ours without a place to call home are real people, who have the same longing for community and dignity that you and I have. They are not pests or a menace to society.
Many of them have endured traumatic experiences, have had bad influences, or are crippled by addiction – situations that could have befallen any of us.
Many are simply folks who have lived from paycheck to paycheck and live consistently close to the poverty line. And many are our veterans, who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedom and our way of life.
Thousands of struggling homeless families have found refuge through our various transitional housing programs at the Dream Center; and we provide more than just food, showers, clean clothes and shelter for one year.
In every situation, a case manager is assigned to mentor each family by guiding them on the path toward independent living and permanent housing. Other resources are also available, including classes and tutoring for a GED, money management courses and vocational training.
While the services we provide are a practical solution, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the relationships formed between those in need and those extending a hand. This is where lasting transformation takes place.
In fact, I’ll take it one step further: The homeless require the same sort of fierce love and patience we display for our own children.
This isn’t just a pipe dream. I know it’s the right recipe because I’ve seen it work right before my very eyes.
I often think back on one of my very first encounters in Los Angeles with a young man living on Skid Row. Although the Dream Center wasn’t in full operation yet, we would often pick up those in need and bring them to community events and church services.
This particular young man was in his 20’s, and he pleaded with me not to bring him back to the streets that day. He was desperate. I didn’t have much, but I offered him a space to live in the church as long as he agreed to make some changes in his life and his habits.
Day by day we got to witness his incredible transformation, and I was amazed to see him grow into a strong man with purpose and vision. He eventually joined the leadership team at our ministry, supporting the cause of helping other young men and women get off the street.
This man’s life has inspired the mission of the Dream Center, having now assisted many other men and women in their discovery of their full potential. They are now living their lives with dignity, in stable jobs and with roofs over their heads.
One of the greatest solutions to this crisis lies in the faith-based community. It is the sleeping giant needed to engage with the homeless and usher in a drastic improvement in their lives.
If you find yourself burdened for this cultural crisis, and want to be a part of the solution, I hope you would consider volunteering with the Dream Center or with any of the other great like-minded organizations. Everyone has something to offer, and right now the homeless in cities across America need every ounce of compassion we have.