Blog: Why are the Homeless Invisible?

By Dr. Maxine Thompson

In my moment of silence today, I want to write about a woman I see who lives on the streets near my home. About 15 years ago, this woman was beautiful. Maybe she was in her mid-thirties at that time. Statusque. Shiny long black hair. Good looking by anyone’s standards.

However, I knew something was wrong when, one night, she came up to our car at the gas station and asked for money. She was holding a blanket, which supposedly had a baby in it. Of course, there was no baby in the blanket. She was just hustling.

Today, I see this same woman and she could pass for a beat-up 90-year-old woman. All her hair is gone. All her teeth are gone. She is gaunt. She sleeps on the ramp going up into the post office. I see her sitting on the curb, drinking beer in the morning. Sometimes, she is with other friends. I’m assuming they are substance abusers, when they get in a huddle and smoke crack on Friday nights. But, often, she is alone. I see her when she gets on the city bus, reeking of urine. She rides for free. She talks to herself. When she disappears, she is gone to jail. Then, she shows up again, when she is released. To many people, she is invisible.

It brings me to this question. Why are our homeless people invisible? All over the city, I see homeless people. I always say, “But for the grace of God, go I.” Perhaps some of these people used to work and lost their jobs. Rent is extremely high in L.A. People have begun to prop up tents on the sidewalk. I’m sure everyone is not a drug addict like the woman I described.

So what can I do? I understand the city has money to help the homeless. The missions in downtown LA are full. So where is this money going? Maybe it’s too late for the lady I see stumbling around in the street, but some families with small children could use the help. It could change the trajectory of their lives.

I’m just thinking out loud.

Here are some statistics for homelessness in California:

United States:

• In January 2014, there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States
• Of that number, 216,197 are people in families, and 362,163 are individuals
• About 15% of the homeless population (84,291) are considered “chronically homeless” individuals
• About 9% of homeless people (49,933) are veterans
• California hosts a total of 113,952 homeless individuals
o This represents 20% of all homeless people in the United States
• There are approximately 15,179 homeless veterans
Santa Clara County, California:
• In 2013, there were 7,631 homeless individuals in Santa Clara County
• By contrast, in 2015 there were only 6,556, representing a 14% reduction in homelessness in Santa Clara County.
o 4,654 of them were unsheltered
• There are approximately 683 homeless veterans
Did you know that homelessness costs Santa Clara County $520 million a year, an on average cost of $62,473 per chronically homeless person? Other consequences of homelessness