Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Nouveau Poor" in Los Angeles

The LA Homeless blog references a recent article in the LA Times which serves as a high-level primer for the "newly poor" in Southern California, focusing on how people who are new to deprivation can obtain food, housing, and healthcare. The information in this "consumer guide for the nouveau poor" is pretty startling, but it's likely that similar things are happening around the country. Here are the high(low)lights:
  • LA County 211, an information and referral line that people call to find out about services, is taking over 50,000 calls a month now. Last year at this time, they were taking 30,000, so a 67% increase.
  • Demand for food from the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank is up 41% over last year, but the supply of food has only increased by 33%. The 400 pantries in this network are handling the shortfall by giving less food, and/or serving fewer people.
  • Subsidized low-income housing is extremely scarce. The waiting list for Section 8 housing (a Federal subsidy program) is closed, and while it may reopen in early 2009, it is expected that only 3,000-4,000 families may be placed in housing through this program. 300,000 are expected to apply. Those who stay on the waiting list "may get placed in five to ten years." Approximately 17,000 people are on the waiting list for subsidized apartments owned by the LA Housing Authority, and there's only a 3% vacancy rate. While waiting for housing, most people in need likely move in with family or friends, crowd into other housing, live in a car, or end up on the streets.
  • If you don't qualify for the state Medicare systems, you'll have to rely on the healthcare system subsidized by LA County. Non-emergent or preventative care appointments, like routine check-ups, can be "difficult if not impossible" to obtain. Non-ambulance visits to the emergency room can result in very long waits.
Much of this will likely be new to people who have never been homeless, hungry or without medical insurance. As the article says
"If you've been a low-income mother of five, you know all the agencies and the nonprofits where you can get help," said John Kim, director of the Healthy City project that is working on a consumer-friendly online guide to these resources.

"But if you just lost your home and your job, you're new to this world. You are looking around, saying, 'Where do I turn?' "
And to this I would add "and when you can't afford your phone anymore, how do you stay in touch with employers, friends/family and others trying to help you"?

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