The homeless people of Los Angeles - eNidhi India Travel Blog

The homeless people of Los Angeles

As I arrived in Los Angeles, first thing that greeted me was the scene of 100s of homeless people living on the streets. (I arrived by bus from San Diego, got down at downtown bus terminal, didn't arrive by flight)

Seeing occasional homeless people on the streets of developed countries is possible- have seen them in Auckland, other US cities but this was the first time I saw them in hundreds.

Why are there so many homeless people in Los Angeles? Why are they all concentrated here? I am no expert but below could be possible reasons.
  • Most of these people could have possibly crossed the border illegally from Mexico- once into USA Los Angeles is first big city for them, where they probably hope to find some work and food.
  • I am told California has best of the weather among all US states. It doesn't snow and one can survive the winter without heater and such facilities. Thus it is possible to survive on the street with just a jacket and tent even in winters. In many other states impossible to stay outdoors for long hours in harsh winters.
  • Los Angeles gets lots of tourists. Tricking them to give money is easier.
  • May be local police and administration hasn't been very active in deporting illegal migrants (if they are dropped off the border they will sneak in again)
  • I am told there could also be legal residents who might have lost jobs or homes in incidents like fire thus rendering them poor.
Most of these people live in makeshift tents by the roadside with bare essentials. Almost everyone seem to have got a phone. Some go asking people on the street if they have some spare cash or can buy them a meal. Others probably resort to unofficial jobs or illegal means such as theft. I saw one person get super aggressive against a car driver for not accommodating his erratic movements on the streets.

Is there an easy way to help them? By giving some form of employment? Possibly yes, but not viable due to multiple reasons. Let us consider an example:

There're 100s of parking lots in downtown Los Angeles- almost 100% of them have automated payment system and no manual staff. Assuming they earn 10$ per car and about 100 cars use the parking lot in a day, each of the parking lot would be generating a revenue of about 1000$ per day. If a staff could be hired to man the parking lot at even 100$ a day salary, that is more than adequate money to buy decent meal for a family of 2-3 people n some other bare necessities of life.

But hiring someone is not that simple. California law dictates a minimum wage of 11 USD per hour, or 88$ for an 8 hour shift. (There's a proposal to increase this to 15$ an hour) That is some 275$ a day for 3 people on 3 shifts. Plus various other benefits such as medical, leave. Once you have several such staff you will need a supervisor at even higher pay. All these rules and facilities will make the whole proposition economically not viable for any business owner. This is the reason almost every business is moving towards automation to reduce staff cost-stores like Walmart have self check-out- customers scan the products themselves and pay, Amazon Go has gone step ahead- sensors figure out which item has been taken and charge automatically. Fuel stations are self service, tolls are automated- so need for unskilled people to do basic jobs are on the decline. (Even skilled jobs are under threat- that is another story)

Lots of homeless people also puts stress on city's infrastructure and law enforcement-the streetlights were covered with a steel mesh, probably to protect against theft.

Of course there're countries where poverty, unemployment and homelessness is lot worse. That is for some other day.

Some additional reading: SF Church that allows homeless to sleep at night * Homeless use tree house in Bay area * Homeless in LA * (Thanks Jennifer Kumar for the links)


  1. Lot of the homeless do not want to work. Large group of them suffer some set of psychological problems.


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