A New Strand in the Net for Homeless

Are homeless children and their poor parents becoming a permanent part of the urban landscape? Will the lessons these youngsters learn on the streets lead to future generations of homeless families--or to avenues out of the shelters?

A growing number of homeless Americans don't fit the vagrant stereotype. Forced out of apartments and houses by unemployment, high rent resulting from runaway real estate inflation and by what the experts call "economic dislocation," homeless families move from friend to friend and shelter to shelter until they have nowhere left to go.

Obviously, they need housing.

Affordable, for them, means rents that can be met with a paycheck based on the minimum wage. Decent, by their definition, is three bedrooms for a family that has both sons and daughters. Available, in their cases, means right now.

A few doors are opening. Casa Guadalupe, a new apartment complex in El Sereno, is home to 22 families. Most live in two- or three-bedroom units, an acknowledgement to the changing demographics of poverty.

Casa Guadalupe was built in part with funds raised by the California Equity Fund, a nonprofit group that funnels corporate investments into affordable housing. The fund, an affiliate of the National Local Initiatives Support Corp., raised an impressive $30 million last year from generous corporations that received federal low-income housing tax credits. Their investments will finance 15 affordable housing complexes that will anchor poor communities.

Local nonprofit developers--like the noteworthy El Pueblo Community Development Corporation, which built Casa Guadalupe--will build or renovate apartments and single occupancy hotels. These community developers work well for reasonable or no fees in many poor communities. Each effort deserves encouragement, and duplication many times over is required to put even the smallest dent in the huge need.

Affordable housing is only part of the cure. The majority of homeless people suffer from mental problems, drug addictions, alcohol dependencies and social problems too complicated to resolve with just a decent home. They also need treatment, training and the chance to make the transition to productive living.

Some help, such as residential drug treatment, has become more available in the past decade. The assistance, however, is dwarfed by the need--and challenged by the changes in the homeless population.

Twenty years ago, most homeless people were drunk men down on their luck. Today, the homeless population includes babies, mothers and elderly Americans. They need all sorts of help, but especially housing of the type promoted by the California Equity Fund, to prevent a permanent and growing homeless population in Los Angeles and every city.

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