Newsletter: Is this how you solve homelessness?


Good morning. Today’s special Sunday edition of the Essential California newsletter comes from Los Angeles Times Deputy Managing Editor Shelby Grad:

Faced with the crisis of homelessness, many in Los Angeles and beyond have asked: How do we solve this? But another, more ominous question also floats in the background: Can we solve this?

That’s because helping people get off the streets is about more than simply finding them a place to sleep. It’s about medical services, emotional support, long-term care and so much more.

Homelessness has been a crucible of the L.A. streets for generations. But recently, voters agreed to do more than just complain about it — they approved spending billions to build more housing and provide services.


So L.A. is undertaking an epic and decidedly risky undertaking to move people from camps to homes. Times staff writer Thomas Curwen and photographer Francine Orr spent 18 months chronicling this, their efforts culminating in a special report, “The Street Within.”

As Tom noted, L.A. is trying to answer a question that has roiled American society for a long time: “Is government responsible for the health and welfare of its citizens?”

L.A. says it’s the government’s job — at least in part. And here is what it looks like:

Part 1: After nine years on L.A.’s streets, Big Mama needed a home. But it wasn’t that easy.

Part 2: Broadway Place’s homeless residents were promised homes. Had the city forgotten them?

Part 3: An entire L.A. homeless encampment moved into apartments. Their past still found them.

Part 4: When L.A. moved them off the streets, some knew it was their last chance. Others didn’t see it that way.


It’s a long, intense read. But it’s essential to understanding the crisis in front of us.

Clues from the past

This might sound familiar. A decade ago, Los Angeles County attempted a similar effort, called Project 50. The idea was bold: Find the 50 people likeliest to die on skid row’s streets — the hardest of the hard cases — and house them however possible.

The Times published a four-part series that followed the process. Like “The Street Within,” Project 50 ended on a bittersweet note.

So where do we stand? Here’s a guide:

— We are spending billions. Is it working?


— Can we really build 10,000 new homes for homeless people?

— How did we let this crisis get so bad?

— 59,000 and counting.

The homelessness reader

Last year, Essential California began compiling a reader of the some of the best stories about homelessness. Here is an updated reading list:

— Column: Homelessness in L.A. is a catastrophe in motion, and our leaders are largely to blame. Los Angeles Times


— 24 hours of being homeless in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle

— My brother the schizophrenic homeless man. The New Yorker

— New and old homeless populations collide after the Paradise fire. New York Times

— The suburban elementary school where the toughest lesson is crushing homelessness and poverty. Los Angeles Times

— The homeless woman everybody knew. New York Times

— Koreatown activists killed a homeless shelter in their district and created a movement with which the city must now contend. LAist


— Barely living on the edge of the bay. Harper’s

— The epidemic of homeless gay teens tossed out by their families. Rolling Stone

— Nothing in a land of plenty: The new homeless of Silicon Valley. The New Republic

— Helping hand: A hero for the those dying on the streets of L.A. Los Angeles Times

— From homeless to Harvard. Harvard Crimson

— Learning to be an adult on the streets. The New Yorker


— Without a home but in college. California Sunday

— Unlocking the decades-long mystery of Joe Gould, a homeless man with a benefactor. Vanity Fair