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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Los Angeles' Homeless Skeptical Of New City Initiative

Local homeless react to the City Council's state of emergency.

Earlier today, LA city officials declared a “state of emergency” on homelessness.  The new initiative calls for $100 million dollars annually to provide affordable housing for those who need it most.  One homeless resident, Juanita Pina, shared her story and explained why she’s hesitant to buy into the city’s plans.

“I never really seen it to where it’s actually benefitting the people that it’s intended for,” says Pina, who is from Des Moines, and came to L.A. three years ago after her mother and grandmother passed away. 

Having been on both the helping and receiving ends of similar initiatives, Pina has seen this before and is weary of its possible effectiveness.  But she does believe the situation is a “state of emergency.”

"It definitely is,” she said. And affordable housing is “the keyword.” Frustratingly, Pina says that the list for available housing can be long, even up to 5 or 10 years, but, “people need it now."

To try and better her situation, Pina has worked with the Union Rescue Mission downtown.  There, she grew weary of shelters for their limited access and safety, especially for women.  She also faced some harassment from police, other homeless people and even those who pass her along the street. But she does appreciate those who extend a hand of help.

“I know about Skid Row and it terrifies me, even though I worked there before… I don’t feel comfortable there, I don’t feel safe, especially being a single female.”

She feels safest out on the street, among those that are her neighbors.  “We all look out for one another.  It’s a small family-type community.”  Her “associates,” as she calls them, are the eyes and ears for everyone.

“It can be humiliating being homeless,” says Pina, who worries that people no longer see her as human or believe that she is out of her mind. She feels that “homelessness is just a situation" that doesn’t define your personality.

Pina has battled bouts of depression.  To stave this off, Pina has returned to an old love: drawing. 

“This is basically what I do, as of lately,” says Pina.  “It helps… It’s constructive.” 

Pina began drawing again after her associates brought her a large sketch pad and colored pencils.  She tirelessly sketches images of powerful queens and evocative scenes and says that she is able to sell some of her art.

“I don’t plan on being homeless for the rest of my life,” says Pina.  “I’m trying to be responsible."

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