Emily is a young woman from Beavercreek and a member of Christ Church. She is working in Los Angeles as a participant in the Young Adult Service Corps of the Episcopal Church. This is an adaptation of a recent post on her blog. Used by permission.
Living in LA has been such an eye-opening experience for more reasons than I could count. Steady warm weather and sunshine is one clear benefit, and living a half-hour from the beach doesn’t hurt either. Living with four other girls and sharing a bedroom is new, and working 8-5 (or longer) and commuting and hour each way daily is a change, too. Those are changes that I expected though. Some differences are bigger than I’d ever imagined.
Contrast of Privilege and Poverty
Growing up in Beavercreek, Ohio I had immense privilege. I was already aware of that, but seeing what I see everyday in LA made me feel raw and crawling with unearned, undeserved privilege. This article isn’t going to be about my privilege, although that post may come on a later date when I’ve had more time to adequately formulate words that acknowledge the enormous amount of privilege that I have benefited and continue to benefit from in my life. Instead, I want to share some facts and figures that made my mind stumble, and compare/contrast Los Angeles and my hometown.
Facts and Figures
This is an image I see daily, and I’m not even close to exaggerating when I say that. Street homeless keep their belongings in carts, which makes it easier for them to move if needed.
- 254,000 men, women and children will experience homelessness in LA at some time during the year.
- On any given night 82,000 people will be homeless in Los Angeles; in Dayton, there are 1,000 people homeless on any given night.
- 12% of the homeless population are families with children.
- 1 in 3 homeless adults have mental and/or physical disabilities.
- 1 in 4 homeless adults are chronically homeless, meaning that they have disabling conditions and are experiencing long term street homelessness.
I feel that it’s important to note that these numbers only include those persons who are ‘literally homeless’ meaning they are
- Sleeping in places not meant for human habitation, including on the street, in parks, along rivers, in backyards, unconverted garages, cars and vans, along freeways or under overpasses, and the like;
- Sleeping in emergency shelters, safe havens, or transitional housing programs and were homeless upon entry into the program.
These numbers do not reflect other forms of homelessness that I find is prevalent with the clients I work with, such as rotating sleeping on friends or families couches, hopping around to different motels, etc. I would call this transient homelessness, that have no permanent residence, which creates extreme instability.
It may be hard to believe, but this is what I see every day. I have never witnessed so many homeless people in my entire life. I think what really hit me was realizing that they are not just staying in a downtown area, like many of us are accustomed to seeing. I see homeless people every day, outside of my work, living by the highways on my drive to anywhere, in the metro stations, outside of my grocery store, in my neighborhood.
I’ve always been able to escape it. Most people are able to leave areas of homelessness and return to their homes in their comfortable neighborhoods and they no longer have to see or think about it again for a while. It’s like it doesn’t happen if you don’t see it. But I can’t stop seeing it, and I also can’t stop the problem of homelessness. It’s so much bigger than me, it’s bigger than the people living it. And I’m left every day questioning how do we make a change?
Often times Matthew 25:35-40 plays in my mind, and I wish that I could say I follow it. I try hard each day, but I’m not perfect. And then I remember that I have no right to place judgment on others. I am called to serve, we are all called to serve. How are you serving your community? Are we doing all we can? Are we engaging not only in acts, but in conversations that change the way we look at poverty in our country? Are we ready to remove judgment and bias from our being and instead actively work towards a society that sees the dignity of every human being and honors that?
What will it take to for us to lay down our pride and selfish wants and desires to live a life of authenticity, passion, love, and mercy? What will it take for us to be humble?
Numbers from My Neighborhood
I wanted to learn more about my neighborhood, so I did a little digging, and what I found was pretty interesting. Firstly, I live in Koreatown which is in central LA. I live with four other girls on the first floor unit of a rectory turned duplex.
- The neighborhood of Koreatown is 4 square miles. My hometown of Beavercreek is about 26 square miles. Get this: my neighborhood holds 3 times more people than my entire hometown. How wild is that?
- Ethnicity is one of the largest differences that I see in front of me every day. It is a huge change for me to be a minority in my neighborhood.
- 87% of residents in Beavercreek are White, whereas 7.4% of residents in Koreatown are White.
- 7% of Koreatown residents are Hispanic and Asian. In general Koreatown is considered highly diverse for the city of LA, and for the country.
- 28% of the residents in my neighborhood fall below the poverty line, 4% of Beavercreek residents fall below the poverty line.
- 40% of people in my neighborhood did not finish high school and did not earn a GED/equivalent. This is 9.7% of Beavercreek residents.
- The median Beavercreek household income is $74,533.00; the median Koreatown household income is $34,136.00.
- In 2012, Beavercreek had a total of 130 crimes. Koreatown had a total of 231 crimes in August alone.
I’m not sharing these statistics because I feel unsafe in my neighborhood and wish I was back in Beavercreek. I’m sharing them because if I had never left my hometown, I could easily forget how privileged I am. I don’t want to live in a way that chooses to be blind to the struggles of my neighbors. I am choosing to live in a way that reinforces my passion for social justice. I am choosing to live in a way that reminds me every single day that our society is broken, and that we need to fix it. If not us, who? If not now, when?
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”