Editor's Note | Fall 2018 Issue

Welcome to Blueprint on Homelessness

Blueprint turns to homelessness, a growing tragedy in California and beyond

By Jim Newton

Shelter. Only food and water outrank shelter in terms of human needs. Shelter provides protection from the elements, stability, a place for family, a base for prosperity. And yet, shelter is threatened across the world – and for diverse reasons.

In much of the world, homelessness is a result of poverty. Shantytowns provide bare cover for the poorest of the poor. And those poor remain poor forever, passing their deprivation to their children, enduring generations of suffering and more homelessness.

Los Angeles and California pose a different challenge in the search for shelter. Here, the threat is prosperity. Gentrification undermines the character of neighborhoods even as it offers a boon to property owners who live in suddenly changing areas. Soaring home prices deliver wealth to those fortunate enough to have been able to purchase property in the past, but they also shut out the less fortunate who cannot join in this bonanza. How does the working class survive in a housing market that prohibits middle-income earners from acquiring a home?

These are the quandaries at the heart of this issue of Blueprint. Our articles examine shelter – housing – and the consequences of its loss: homelessness. Few misfortunes strike more gravely at the heart of what it is to be human. To have no place to live is to suffer on many levels. It complicates the search for employment and endangers the health and welfare of those so denied. It is dangerous to live in a tent or under a bridge. Those who do fall ill and are often victims of crime.

These are not abstractions. Los Angeles is second only to New York in the number of people who live without a settled address. Some are what experts call the “chronically homeless,” often afflicted with addictions and mental health challenges. They pose one kind of need: For them, recovery requires a blend of treatment and housing services. Such services are in woefully short supply throughout the United States.

Others are without homes temporarily. Many have lost jobs and have become priced out of the housing market. Some live in cars and try to support their families by working at menial jobs. They earn just enough to live, but not enough to afford a home. They represent a far different problem: For them, the answers are found in better employment and affordable housing – a model at odds with California’s historic reliance on the single-family home.

For academics and policy makers, housing is not one concern but many. It needs to be considered in terms of both its global and local consequences. Homelessness stretches from Mumbai to Sao Paolo to Skid Row in Los Angeles. This issue of Blueprint attempts to comprehend that range and to suggest solutions, some of which may work in one place but not in another. Homelessness has a single theme, however: Every human being needs and deserves a place to live.

Jim Newton

Jim Newton

Jim Newton is a veteran author and journalist who spent 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, editorial page editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of three critically acclaimed books of biography and history, and he teaches at UCLA.

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