The Number Of Children Living On Skid Row Has Doubled Since Last Year

Families lined up in downtown L.A.'s Union Rescue Mission. The Mission provides shelter to many, including homeless families. (Courtesy Scott Streble/Union Rescue Mission)

The holidays are right around the corner and an increasing number of Southern California's most vulnerable residents are without a home — children.

Specifically in Skid Row, LA Downtown News reports that the number of homeless kids has doubled since last year. There are more than 300 children there, according to the most recent count from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). The number of "family units" experiencing homelessness in the neighborhood also rose dramatically, up 111 percent from 2017.

That surge has shelters like Skid Row's Union Rescue Mission completely full and struggling to meet the needs.

"The other night we had 112 moms, 10 dads, 271 kids," Andy Bales, the Mission's CEO, told KPCC's Take Two. "The most kids that we had during the Great Recession, when everybody was losing their homes, was 130."

Families lined up inside the Union Rescue Mission in downtown L.A. to take advantage of its shelter for the homeless. (Courtesy Scott Streble/Union Rescue Mission)

The shelter had to rapidly transform common spaces into rooms where families could sleep overnight. A fifth-floor wing was created to accommodate 100 family members, for example, and the gym now houses another 150 people. That's on top of the chapels and playrooms that have pulled double duty as sleeping spaces since last year.

It's a massive effort to make sure families are able to find shelter off the sidewalks of Skid Row.

"They don't feel safe on the streets," Bales said. "They see things that no one should ever see going on in the streets of Skid Row. It's a warzone."

LAHSA's most recent data showed homelessness across L.A. County did dip slightly compared to last year, but one reason more families are ending up homeless can be traced to the increasing costs of living in Southern California.

"Because of economic reasons, we saw in 2017 a number of families go into homelessness for the first time," said LAHSA spokesman Tom Waldman. "That comes down to two things: either loss of job or cut back of wages, or an increase in rent."

The gym at Skid Row's Rescue Mission is lined with inflatable mattresses to accommodate a record number of homeless families seeking shelter. (Courtesy Union Rescue Mission)

Struggling families might live with relatives for a while or inside their vehicle before they reach their breaking point. Some have gotten help because of local efforts like Measure H, which Angelenos passed it in 2016 to increase the sales tax, boosting funding for several homelessness service programs, including temporary cash assistance.

"(Measure) H has provided money to tide that person over or that family over for a couple of months while that family gets back on its feet so they're able to stay in that apartment and not find themselves in homelessness," Waldman explained, adding that 935 families had specifically been helped by that program.

Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission in downtown L.A., is in front of the children's playground on the Mission's roof. (Dorian Merina/KPCC file photo)

But the problem is growing so fast that it can be hard for service providers and supportive programs to keep up.

"We need to do whatever it takes to make sure that we do not have a child on the streets," Bales said. "What breaks my heart is that we're allowing children to be devastated by homelessness."

Editor's note: Listen to the radio version of this story here on KPCC's Take Two.


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