YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Remember the Homeless at Home Too

January 12, 2002|MARK CASANOVA

Lots of folks lost sleep after Sept. 11. The attacks knocked the equilibrium right out from under us. But look at it this way: If you lost sleep, you probably at least had the luxury of a bed to sleep in.

I run one of the community-based, nonprofit "safety-net" organizations that make it into the headlines every holiday season. We take care of homeless people. We walk the streets of skid row looking for people who need our services, and then we help them, first with emergency food and shelter and a bed to sleep in, then permanent housing. We've done this work for 16 years. It's a tough job.

Hundreds of people come to my organization every month. We take care of crack- and heroin-addicted pregnant women, adults with HIV and others with serious mental illness, chronic substance use and histories of sexual and physical abuse.

Mostly, though, our clients are regular folks who get sick and lose a job or a spouse or their home and suddenly land on skid row. The people we treat have hit bottom with nowhere else to go. We do what we can, and we have many success stories. But this past season, unlike any other holiday season we can remember at Homeless Health Care, we feel like we're fighting the battle and starting to take some heavy casualties.

Federal money for homelessness services? Well, the McKinney Act of 1987 provides a little money--about the same amount it provided in 1987. And the Bush administration's budget proposes a huge, $400-million cut for hospitals that serve the poor.

State money? There is some, but Gov. Gray Davis' pending budget has cuts or delays for programs like Healthy Families, and big cuts for county programs that are funded by the state, put our efforts at risk.Ever since the fall, when the recession began and Sept. 11 happened, those of us who run safety-net organizations have felt overwhelmed. Almost two-thirds of California's safety-net agencies now have more clients, according to a recent California Cares survey. It makes sense: More people out of work equals a greater need for services.

But here's the worst part: When the need increases, usually corporations, foundations and individuals increase their support and give more. Not this time. Most of the safety-net organizations have seen donations decrease during the past few months.

Why? Corporations, foundations and individual donors have diverted their regular giving to New York.

"Sorry," they tell us, "but we gave to the victims of the terrorists, and now we're tapped out." And the diversion has been huge. The seven largest Sept. 11 funds now have collected more than $1.2 billion--more than the need.

I feel a lot of sympathy for the terrorists' victims and the survivors. Who wouldn't? But our clients are victims too. Most of the people who lost their jobs and their homes right here in Los Angeles worked at minimum-wage restaurants or the airports or tourist attractions. They can't pay their rent, feed their families or keep up with California's ridiculous energy bills.

Like most people, I mourn our dead. I know their families have been through a tremendous ordeal. Yes, their survivors have to deal with the grief of a sudden, violent death, and I wouldn't wish that horror on anyone.

But I wouldn't wish the horror of homelessness on anyone, either. Think you lost sleep? Try sleeping in a cardboard box on a sidewalk on skid row with your children for a few nights.

Do what you can for New York, but don't forget the homefront. As the ads say, give generously to your local charities. I promise you'll sleep better.


Mark Casanova is the executive director of Homeless Health Care Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times Articles