Half of Them Are Children

Green Blanket, by Daniel Cortez

BY Kimberly Mayer

We have seen dystopia. Having driven the west coast recently from the northernmost border near Canada to the southernmost border near Mexico and back up again, we know it’s real. In city after city, Seattle to San Diego, thousands of homeless encampments alongside freeways and in the underbelly of overpasses and bridges. It’s real and has grown considerably since the last time we left the island and went anywhere.

This is the picture I am left with in my mind’s eye: tent after tent, tarp upon tarp—a collage of colors jammed against chain-link fences and concrete pilings like a mural. Flying by, it’s unusual to see anybody in the camps. But I don’t know what it says about us that we did just that, drove on by. 

This now, is our country.

Homelessness in the US was on the rise even before Covid struck. “And we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. The pandemic has severely slowed efforts to house the homeless in temporary housing, while land and construction costs are only soaring. Even the count of the homeless has been delayed due to Covid.

An estimated 800-1,000 now make their beds or set up tents on sidewalks or alleyways in downtown Seattle, according to The Regional Homelessness Authority. Emily Cohen, Deputy Director for Communications and Legislative Affairs San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, states “…for the average citizen, unfortunately, homelessness is still very visible and that drives the conversation.” And in Los Angeles, the number of homeless residents exceeds 66,000, making it the ‘homeless capital’ of the country. Ron Galperin, Los Angeles City Controller, speaks for every city in saying, “It is a moral crisis, a humanitarian crisis, it’s a public health crisis, and it is the existential crisis we have here in Los Angeles.”

Two weeks ago Russia invaded Ukraine and it’s impossible to write about anything without Ukraine folding in. More than two million people have fled Ukraine by foot, bus, and rail, what the United Nations calls “the fastest and largest displacement of people in Europe since WWII.” The refugee crisis in Ukraine is not the same, of course, excepting everyone needs shelter.

This now is our world.


Filed under homelessness in the US, Ukrainian refugees

10 responses to “Half of Them Are Children

  1. Kim, thank you for this powerful post, the way you weave your own observations and your research. We have a big homelessness issue in Boston and elsewhere in Mass. The videos of the suffering, courageous Ukrainians and the sight of our own homeless population make a wrenching, disturbing connection. We MUST do something to fix these wrongs.

    • No words to describe today’s Daily Mail photograph of thousands of Ukrainians mobbing train station platforms in Kharkiv… “Mothers and families, the young and the old, they would have filled the ten-carriage service several times over.”

  2. It truly is a moral, humanitarian, public health and existential crisis. Tug and I were in the L.A. area last month and saw some of the people that are homeless. We must always remember that wherever they are ,they are people who are homeless.

  3. Tracy Ahrens

    Kim, this is a very well written post about a tragic problem in our country. How can we chose as a nation not to take care of our children and their families? My eyes and ears and heart have been focused on the tragedies in Ukraine, but as you have pointed out so well, there is a great need for compassion and assistance right here under our noses.

  4. beatrice carla wright

    Dear Kim, I can’t stop thinking about your post. Memories flood in when I volunteered with my dog, Ajax, at a mental institution in the 60’s. Many patients only related to animals. Today, these people would be on the street (and many with dogs).
    In the 90’s, I volunteered at a homeless shelter in New Mexico. Expecting to see Native Americans, many were Vietnam veterans. Today, they are on the street.
    I wish I had the answer (or Bezos’ resources). Everyone deserves a place to call home. What I can do when we pass on the street is offer a smile. I SEE YOU. We share this planet.

    • What you said, Carla, is so important.
      I remember a psychiatrist explaining that homeless people often feel invisible. That if they weren’t schizophrenic to begin with, we can drive them that way with our turned gazes.
      He couldn’t stress enough the importance of looking each person in the eye.
      By the way, I love all the work you did.

  5. Kim, we too just returned home to Seattle after a long road trip to Southern CA and Arizona. That Seattle is not alone in its homelessness crisis is no comfort. May we all support those who are trying to help. They may seem tireless, but they are tired.

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