During the last months of her pregnancy, Elba Luna slept on the streets of Los Angeles. When she gave birth, she was taken in by the non-profit organization Union Rescue Mission.
“My mom lives in Whittier. She takes care of my 15-year-old daughter but she says she cannot have me at home because the landlord does not like guests. The father of my son was deported and has not returned for fear of being caught,” she says while bathing her newborn.
According to the 2015 Homeless Count, conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), 33% of homeless individuals in Los Angeles County are women and the number grows each year.
The most common circumstance that surrounds push factors for homeless women is domestic violence. The rise of women in shelters increases the number of homeless people in Los Angeles which, for the authorities, is already an unprecedented crisis.
The city and county of Los Angeles has the largest population of chronically homeless in the country.
Luna is an American citizen who has two children, ages 11 and 7, who live with their deported father in Mexico. “I went to visit him and, when I came back, I did not know I was pregnant. I do not want to go back to him because I realized that he cheats on me,” she explains.
The Hispanic woman said that she suffers a lot for being separated from her children and not having a place to live. “Nothing in the world would make me go back to the father of my children. I’m positive about getting a job and a low-income apartment,” she says.
Victims of Domestic Violence
“The number of women without a home has grown even more than homeless men,” says Andy Bales, president of Union Rescue Mission. “It is likely that 40% of all homeless are mothers with their children,” he estimated.
Bales attributes the increase in the number of abandoned women to the fact that they do not earn enough to pay the rent, but also to the domestic violence that makes them to leave their house and obligares them to live on the streets.
“A small percentage is related to drug use,” he believes.
It was domestic violence that forced Clarisa Teck, an indigenous Maya from Belize, to leave the father of her children.
“He is a citizen, I am undocumented. He, himself, brought me to this shelter and kept our children ages 6 and 14. I could no longer put up with him, he hit me a lot, and he insulted me. He treated the children well. I wanted to get my papers in order but I never married him, nor reported him to the police,” says this woman while folding clothes in the Union Rescue Mission shelter.
Other women fled domestic violence with all their children.
Maria Salcedo waited for her husband to go to sleep in order to leave her once South Gate home with her children, ages 3, 6 and 10.
“I put up with him a lot. He used to drink every weekend and then hit me. He had already broken my nose. We lived with his mother and she advised me to put up with him,” says Salcedo.
When Women Lose Their Home
Some women have ended up on the streets because they have lost their house, like 57-year-old Rachel Mora.
“I lost my apartment in Glendora. I got the wrong roommate and I was charged because of him, but the judge already released me. I tried to stay with one of my children, but it did not work. My other children do not know that I was living on the streets. God forbid! I hope to get a job in Avon where I worked before and used to recruit people,” she says.
When Jazmin Minero’s husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer, he was forced to leave his job changing tires. She only had a job as a cashier but she could not continue paying the rent and supporting their six children, ages from 5 to 17 years.
“For a while, an uncle let us sleep in his living room. Four of my children stayed with my sister,” she says.
“I feel really stressed. I want to cry. I want to see if we can get an apartment that does not cost much,” she says while her two younger children play happily unaware of their mother’s anguish.
Shelters Serve as Temporary Homes
Andy Bales says that Union Rescue Mission helps women find a home and link them to training programs to find a job. A third of them are accepted with their children in the Garden Family.
Hope Center, a 77-acres space in the mountains of Sylmar that offers temporary housing for single mothers and their children up to 36 months.
During that time, they have access to rehabilitation programs, services and spiritual care so they can escape homelessness forever.
For the president of Union Rescue Mission, the City is not doing enough to bring down helplessness.
“There must be a change in attitude. We need to worry. It is unacceptable to have so many people living in the streets,” he says.
An Unprecedented Crisis
Last November, the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department made public that the city and county are the largest in the country with chronically homeless population.
From 2013 to 2015, it grew by 55% until it reached 12,536. Overall, the number of homeless has increased by 15%.
The homeless have invaded, with their tents, areas that they had never occupied and has dispersed with their mattresses and furnishings by the sidewalks of all districts from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro.
Last September, the Angeleno Council was forced to declare a state of emergency and announced that earmarked $100 million out of the city’s budget for housing and services.
“This unprecedented crisis has worsened because the supply of affordable homes is very limited,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo.
It is estimated that, in the City of Los Angeles, there are more than 25,000 homeless, and more than 41,000 people in the whole county.
Recently the Los Angeles City Council voted for a strategic plan to expand services and access to housing for the homeless and reduce their number.
“Together with our partners in the county, we see an unprecedented political will,” said Councilman Jose Huizar.
It is estimated that the city’s strategy to bring down the poverty costs $1.8 billion dollars, so councilors are preparing to present a measure to the voters that allows them to raise funds.