I attended a session this week on food and housing needs in Los Angeles with a panel of experts from both public and nonprofit agencies. What they had to share was truly scary.
- According to Miguel Santana from LA County, there has been a 30% increase in homeless families in the past year (which they know from looking at applications to the county for CalWORKs – i.e. welfare benefits – with no home address), and applications for CalWORKs are up about a third over all.
- Michael Flood shared that community sites that distribute food to the hungry supplied by the LA Regional Food Bank have seen a 41% increase in demand. Data from 2007 show that there are about 1.2 million people who are “food insecure” in LA County; but that number has surely risen with the economic crisis.
- Maribel Marin explained that 211 LA County, a three-digit dialing code that connects people to information and referrals on health and human service programs throughout Los Angeles County, has seen rapidly increasing numbers of callers over recent months. For example, operators typically receive less than 1,000 calls a month from families looking for emergency shelter; from May to December of last year, however, the number of calls rose steadily each month to nearly 2,000.
Behind these numbers are real people who are suffering, and with every notice of more layoffs and foreclosures, the crisis grows. One member of the panel said astutely that the real driver in the crisis for people is not unemployment or some other occurrence; it is desperation, the feeling that you have done everything you can to get help but have failed.
More than ever, we need a strong safety net to help the most vulnerable bounce back up and get on their feet again. Unfortunately, the latest indications from Sacramento are not positive. For detailed analysis of what the Governor’s proposed budget would mean for the social safety net in our state, see the California Budget Project’s latest report, Uncharted Waters: Navigating the Social and Economic Context of the Governor’s Proposed 2009-10 Budget