(Above, a homeless youth sits on the park grass outside Long Beach City Hall).
Elizabeth Waite is a student at California State University, Long Beach. And just like 1 in 10 students attending a CSU, she is homeless.
“It is scary and stressful,” says Waite, 24. “It takes up almost all of your psychological energy and focus.”
As the student volunteer coordinator of Housing Long Beach, Waite is a vocal advocate for Measure H, a Los Angeles County ballot measure that would raise the sales tax by a quarter of a cent in order to raise $3.55 billion over 10 years in order to finance medical, housing, and employment needs of people who are homeless.
The initiative will be voted on March 7 and needs a two-thirds majority to pass. If it passes it would complement Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure passed in November that would create 10,000 affordable housing units in L.A. County.
“Measure H is meant to allocate funds to cutting off the cycle of homelessness through intervention before it starts,” says Waite. “It will provide funding for preventative measures that will cut off the main causes of homelessness in the first place, such as domestic abuse, drug addiction, and cycling in and out of the prison system.”
It is estimated that there are 47,000 homeless individuals in L.A. County, which accounts for 40 percent of the homeless population in California. And according to the recent homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, more than 3,400 are between the ages of 18 and 24, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year.
Andrea Marchetti, the executive director of Jovenes, Inc., an L.A. nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting homeless youth, says that the rise in youth homelessness can be attributed to the high cost of living in the L.A. area.
“A lot of youth do not have the experience to have a high paying job in order to afford that studio apartment going for $800 a month,” says Marchetti.
He also says that without affordable housing, there’s really a lot of pressure for young adults to become self-sufficient in just a few months’ time.
“When you think about surviving everyday, you cannot focus on a long term plan to become successful,” says Marchetti.
Waite says she has friends who have decided to live out of their cars because the cost of rent in Long Beach is too much.
“Me and many other homeless people in the city have almost given up on the idea that we’re gonna break out and have a stable permanent place,” she says.
Long Beach’s mayor and city council endorsed Measure H last month.
“Homelessness simply can’t be addressed by a single city, and we are working closely with Los Angeles County to ensure that Measure H resources would be allocated appropriately in Long Beach as part of a regional solution over the next 10 years,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in a statement.
In its last homeless count in 2015, Long Beach had 255 homeless children and 134 homeless youth between the ages of 18 to 24.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority have determined that providing stable housing to a homeless individual is more effective than providing services without guaranteed housing.
“People who are homeless need a home because they don’t have one,” says Marchetti. “Once they have housing, then we can work with them with everything that needs to be achieved.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated Elizabeth Waite’s title. She is Housing Long Beach’s student volunteer coordinator.