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What Happens to Homeless People When LA Demolishes Their Encampments?

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As if homeless people didn't have it hard enough, they're thrown into limbo when the city destroys their homes

As Los Angeles's $2-billion plan to fight homelessness awaits funding, homelessness continues to increase, the majority of homeless residents remain unsheltered, and the city sees intent on making more and more sweeps of homeless encampments, the LA Times takes a look at a few people whose homes in the Tujunga Wash were demolished, to see where people go and what they do once their improvised homes have been destroyed by the city.

Last fall, the city and some home-having residents swept the wash multiple times, destroying the homes of 30 people and forcing them to find someplace else to go, says the Times. "A few slipped back into the wash. But most dispersed, leaving no record of where they went or how their lives changed."

Some that the Times can still locate are in various stages of trying to get housing with Section 8 vouchers—no easy task given LA's super-low vacancy rates, which mean that landlords can often get more money from non-Section 8 tenants; in California, unlike many other states, it's legal to discriminate against Section 8 tenants. (There is a kindly landlord in the story who sees renting to the homeless as "a mission.")

The path from homelessness to housing is hard before even getting to the actual apartment hunt, though. Even though the Tujunga residents had help from agencies like LA Family Housing, getting into housing involves jumping a succession of hurdles: getting doctor's notes, filling out long applications, delivering those applications across town, and, ultimately, embarking on a long hunt to lock down an apartment before the Section 8 voucher expires (240 days), lest the applicant have to start all over again.

Twenty-four of the people who called the wash home have been relocated into some form of housing now, with over half of those living in a temporary shelter, a few living with family or friends, and seven of them reaching that goal of getting Section 8 and getting their own apartments. That only leaves about 21,350 more people to get into shelter of some kind.