Southern California is stereotypically known as the land of dreams. The weather is almost always perfect, year round. Palm trees sway in the breeze. Winters are typically mild and welcoming. Tropical flowers decorate the landscape. Tourists in designer sunglasses and name brand clothing crowd the sidewalks and local shopping areas. The ocean, desert, and ski resorts are all accessible, within hours of each other. Many of the people who live in Southern California are some of the wealthiest in the nation. Sadly though, things aren’t always glamorous for the residents here.
There are shadowy places here, where people try to blend into the background often with nothing more than a few plastic bags containing their precious odds and ends. There are people here in the midst of, or surrounded by luxury, who can be wrapped in tattered, often unwashed clothing, possibly pushing a shopping cart, hiding usually in plain site. They are purposely or not, overlooked, or ignored by society. Sometimes though, the homeless aren’t always what a stereotypical homeless person is portrayed as. Homelessness can be a person who looks completely average, who because of a strong determination and grit, can hide what has become of their lives, washing up and changing clothes in a local restaurant restroom. Those who are fortunate enough to own a vehicle, can pull their car into a parking lot and sleep there. The homeless can be individuals or whole families, including small children to grandparents, or many others who attempt to disguise themselves as campers at a local campground. They can be elderly, single women, someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, or grandmother or grandfather. The definition of being homeless is defined as a person who lacks personal, permanent housing, including, sleeping in cars, living on the street, living in motel rooms, couch surfing with friends or family, or temporarily living in a transitional shelter. These are the people who fall through the cracks in our broken social system.
Major cities in the U.S. have housing shortages, not enough higher paying jobs that can sustain workers in providing themselves, or families, with a place to sleep, while ever increasing rents continue. Home ownership has become an impossibility for many. Social programs are losing funding. Medical costs continue to rise. Mental illness and lack of affordable care and shelter for many of the most vulnerable in our society is a real problem. These people who live on the edge, who are at the tipping point, or have reached what is considered the falling off point, have become a member, willingly or more often then not, victims of becoming without a place to rest their heads, or drink their morning coffee.
It doesn’t take much for someone living paycheck to paycheck, not only in California, but across the United States, to give up on, or lose what was and is the American dream of maintaining or even owning a home and soon becoming a statistic in state or country records.
Being without a place to live or even sleep, for some, can start with something as common as an illness, divorce, domestic violence, substance or alcohol abuse, or just a bad mistake in a life choice. You may know someone who fits some of the above criteria. Maybe it’s a friend, an acquaintance, a family member or even yourself. Homelessness occurs quietly, sometimes slowly, sometimes very rapidly. Homelessness usually almost always results in feelings of shame, humiliation, embarrassment, or even potential mental or physical breakdown. Homelessness is living on the edge, a place where cost of living and finances don't equally measure up. Circumstances can change that tipping point, leading to disaster. Being homeless in one of the wealthiest parts of the United States can be doubly difficult.
According to Fast Check by PolitiFact, California has the highest percentage of the homeless population in the nation. Estimates state that there are 34 out of 10,000 people living in their cars or on the streets in the most populous state on the west coast of the United States. California ranks third in the nation for the countries highest homeless population, with only New York City and Hawaii ranking higher.
The Orange County Register reports, in February of 2018, that to just pay rent for an average apartment in Orange County, California, a person must work a minimum of 92 hours a week at a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour, just to pay rent, on a fair market, one bedroom apartment. The average, current rent in Southern California is $1800 a month for an apartment, not including utilities. Approximately 3 out of 4 homeless people, or approximately 41,000 people live, or sleep in their cars, tents, or lean to’s; the rest sleep on the streets or in parks.
In a place where Disneyland reigns, a one day visit with a family of four people, to the magical kingdom, can easily eat up a $1000, including lunch, snacks, and a small souvenir. Many of California’s children only know Disneyland from television commercials, magazines, or as a place to pass by, while on a trip to a local grocery store, or on the way home. Housing is the number one priority and main expenditure to a lower income family, along with food. Tourist attractions in the area, remain just as the name claims, a tourist attraction.
Low income wage earners need to sometimes double families up, sometimes with other family members, or perhaps complete strangers to share the cost of rent, to just be able to provide a place of shelter.
The glorious beaches here known in modern song and on television, show Southern California as a place of glamour and beauty. Most are still free to visit, but parking the local beach parking lot will set you back $20 for a few hours, or a day of sun and fun in the surf and on the sand. Attending most tourist attractions in California remain, a luxury for out of owners, or the higher wage earners, not for the people who work for and provide services for many of local attractions. These people struggle just to maintain a place to live, eat and sleep.
To an out of state, or out of country visitor, spending time here in California can truly seem like paradise, but to the abandoned woman, elderly person existing only on a Social Security check, divorced person with no savings, or person earning a wage from a minimum paying job, losing employment, or experiencing or becoming ill, can set a person up to become homeless and possibly losing their homes to live a life, existing and trying to find shelter on the streets. In a place where glamour and riches have become advertised as commonplace, what can appear to be heaven on earth to some, for the most unlucky, life can quickly become a nightmare while trying to survive; living homeless, just another day in Paradise.