You may have seen the news in your local area of an annual homelessness survey. I was aware of it because I participated in one last year at home. This year we are in Indio, California and I signed up again. Black or white does not refer to racial make up but to the predominant reason many young people are homeless. Black is slang for heroin and white for meth.
This tells the story of life on the street as much as anything.
As mentioned, a large percentage of homelessness is the result of drug or alcohol abuse or addiction. Jimmy has been on the streets for years. He was very engaging. Not so with all of them.
Young women are particularly vulnerable and night time is the most dangerous. I was told that to avoid sleeping at night women take drugs. Thus begins their addiction. Homeless men and women (and some with children) are very migratory – here for a week, a month then flat out vanish.
Some of what you see on the ground, particularly the orange caps, are the used paraphernalia of heroin addicts. We were urged to be very cautious in approaching any individual as many had weapons. We were accompanied by two very capable police officers everywhere we went.
Among the number of people that I interviewed (results entered on a specialty app on my phone) was Esteban, a native of Indio. His stated reason for being homeless was that he never learned to read or write. We put him in touch with a literacy program, however, others that have helped him say that Estiban has a drug problem.
Officer Haworth was one of our two escorts. His job puts him in contact with most of the homeless. Indeed, he knew many of them by name. He said his approach isn’t to bust them but to continually motivate them to take advantage of the many services available here for them. His biggest frustration was with Prop 47, which decriminalized many felonies to misdemeanors and removed some of the incentives that law enforcement have to offer to addicts and alcoholics. He said now any criminal can steal (forge checks, shoplift, etc) up to approximately $950 dollars of goods or possess illegal drugs (up to a point) – they are now just misdemeanors. The measure has created a revolving door for criminals, with no jail time and removed mandated drug treatment programs.
One professional in the social services told me that she goes around every week to see people like this to remind them of the services they could have. She said at some point they hit bottom and want help – or die.