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.