Hunched over on the cement bench facing the ocean at Redondo Beach is Esperanza. Most, if not, all locals know who she is by sight though very few know her by name. Esperanza in French and Spanish, ironically, mean’s hope, though perhaps from society’s perspective she represents the loss of it.
I have tried to talk to Esperanza on several occasions, only for her to retreat by hanging her head in shame, reversing her cart piled with a hodge-podge collection of discarded junk, but it’s all that she owns. Despite her need for privacy or, perhaps, due to her fear of the outside world, I managed to catch her on a good day and squeezed out her name. Walking my dogs along the beach, we’ve managed to get to know other dogs and their owners around the neighborhood. So, I wanted to also know Esperanza by name rather than to simply point to her, referencing her by apparent her lack of finances and an address.
I don’t know her story, but as a new mother I cannot help but wonder what it was like when her own mother first held her in her arms. I wonder if her father was happy and if he was even around for her birth. Where are they now? Are they still alive? If so, do they wonder what has become of their daughter?
Was Esperanza given away, adopted by a couple that could not have children? Or was her home with her birth parents full of joy and love? Does she suffer from some sort of mental illness, or did she fall victim to drugs and alcohol?
Regardless of the reasons she is now homeless, Esperanza was once someone’s baby with food to eat and a roof over her head. She was someone’s daughter, perhaps someone’s sister and aunt. Might she even be someone’s mother and grandmother? Esperanza smokes cigarettes and her nails are occasionally done. I don’t know if maybe some locals help her out when they can or if she has access to some money, whether it be a monthly Social Security check she’s able to cash or something else. She wears glasses when she’s reading and she seems to have just a handful of books, enough to cycle through them again and again.
The feeling I’ve received from her is that there are days she seems to welcome conversation and others when she wants nothing more than to be left alone. More days than not, she keeps to herself, and she never asks for help or a handout. It seems as if she prefers to live this way. I can’t diagnose her, but my guess would be that she’s bi-polar. Not that I am an expert; I only recognize the symptoms from personal experience based on my dealings with friends.
According to a recent Jan. 24, 2015 article Home is where the hearth is published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica by World Psychiatric Association, D. Bhugra and A. Ventriglio from the University of Foggia in Italy found that nearly half of 1,500 homeless individuals studied were depressed or suffered from some substance abuse. Meanwhile, the other half suffered from a traumatic brain injury. Early intervention in the lives of homeless people is one recommendation made in the article, but how does unemployment and poverty factor in? The article further points out the question that many still ask: Do psychiatric disorders lead to homelessness, or does homelessness contribute to mental illness? It’s a chicken and egg dilemma.
An even more recent Los Angeles Times article published just last month reported that homelessness jumped in both the City of Los Angeles and the L.A. County by a whopping 12 percent. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the number of vehicles, tents and makeshift encampments occupied by those without permanent housing rose by 9,535 individuals, or approximately 85 percent. There were a total of 44,000 new homeless people throughout the entire nation as of this past January.
It’s no surprise that homelessness rose in L.A. or that the region accounts for nearly 22 percent of new homeless people in the entire United States. And it’s no shock to hear Steve Clare, executive director of Venice Community Housing admit that the city and county has done an awful job when it comes to creating affordable housing.
Most of us Angelenos are beyond frustrated with the extremely high cost of living here. According to a Forbes article, a good portion of rent-controlled units went off the market in Los Angeles but cost of living increases hasn’t given anyone a break. And despite the national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, as of March 2015, Los Angeles still remains at 7.7 percent. Back in April several low-income renters rallied in the L.A. city hall to demand better housing practices.
The Bottom Line:
It would be nice if more of us in Southern California could actually afford to purchase homes. Instead, we are forced to rent and somehow absorb costs that are 40 percent higher than the national average. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to live in L.A., and I try to count my blessings daily. I realize that whenever I think I have it bad, there is always someone that has it worse, as cliché as that might sound. With our 7.7 unemployment rate, the high cost of living and 54,000 homeless people in the city of Los Angeles alone, there’s something more that can and should be done. The daunting numbers ought to tell us that we still have a lot of work to do to repair the economy so that no one in this country is ignored, especially if they lack a permanent address.