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Helping California’s Homeless

Earlier this month, California police cleared what was said to be the largest homeless encampment in the United States. About 200 homeless people were living at the camp in San Jose, California. Officials said police officers and city workers acted because the area was unclean.

The homeless people were living near Silicon Valley, the country’s high technology center. Some people there have made millions, even billions of dollars from high-tech devices and services. But others have no money and no place to live.

Federal officials believe there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people nationwide on any given day. Each one lacks a permanent place to live. Reasons for homelessness can include the high cost of housing, poverty and unemployment. Other reasons are mental health problems and just plain bad luck.

In Los Angeles, a group called PATH searches along flood channels and major roads for homeless camps. PATH is short for the name People Assisting the Homeless. Its workers look for people who have no permanent shelter.

On a recent day, VOA was there when a PATH worker gave food and water to a 53-year-old homeless woman named Lucy. She lives next to concrete barriers built to contain floodwaters. She says the homeless like to live near friends and neighbors, like everyone else.

“A lot of us try to team up, with two and two, you know. And they help each other, you know.”

Jorge Guzman was one of the people hoping to help the homeless. He says they make their camps where they are not seen -- behind buildings or in forests or parks.

“They just don’t want to be noticed. They’re doing their thing out here and, you know, they’re just trying to survive.”

City workers periodically clear away small trees and plants, uncovering homeless campers. But one woman near the city of Whittier has lived between a river and a busy road for six years. Sarah Sindeldecker says she and her husband are sometimes forced to move, but they do not travel far.

“When they kick you out, you either have to find another place or, you know…We’ve gone to the Telegraph Bridge for six months between that time, and then move back here when they cleaned us out. They have to clean out every once in a while.”

Michael Crosby lives at a homeless campsite in the California community of Santa Clarita. He has been trying to protect himself from the rain.

“(It’s) clean and tidy, except for lately when this storm came in I spent most of the night coverin’ up stuff, and tryin’ to salvage what we can, and stay dry.”

He says the nearby river threatens him and others.

“If any more comes down at a higher rate, it’s gonna fork off and wash us away, so...”

Michael Crosby is safe from the rain and the river for the next three months. He will sleep and eat at a shelter operated by a group called Bridge to Home. Tim Davis is the executive director of the charity. He says homeless people must make difficult choices.

“(Whether from) bad luck, or you have a mental disease, or you have drug or alcohol problems, those kind of things, alright, and you do make 10 bucks an hour, you can’t find a place to live around here. So, so your choice is, you know, if you have a car, live in the car, or you live in the open.”

Workers in Whittier try to move people out of homeless camps and into a home of their own. But housing is costly. Still, worker Tomasz Babiszkiewizc says he has been able to help some people.

“It’s really good to see the steps when people are leaving their encampments and they’re transitioning to either transitional housing, and after when they obtain their own housing.”

But there are many other homeless people still living on the streets or in camps, moving when their campsites are taken down.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

VOA Los Angeles Correspondent Mike O’Sullivan reported this story. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the story editor.


Words in This Story

tidy adj. clean and organized; not messy

salvage v. to remove (something) from a place so that it will not be damaged, destroyed, or lost

fork off phrasal verb to divide into two parts

charity n. an organization that helps people who are poor or sick

bucks n. dollars (informal, slang)

encampment n. a place that is set up and used as a camp

transition v. to make a change from one state, place, or condition to another; to make a transition

obtain v. to gain or get (something), usually by effort

Are there camps in your country where the homeless live? Does your government help homeless people? Do volunteers search for the homeless and give them food and water? Are there shelters for the homeless in your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

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