L.A.'s crisis: High rents, low pay, homelessness rising and $2,000 doesn't buy much

I was walking the dog last week in a South Pasadena park when I glanced at a man and woman having breakfast at a picnic table.

I’d seen them before; this time I said hello.

Margaret and her son Chris told me they live in their car.

“We’re lucky,” said Margaret, who asked that I not use her last name. “We’ve got income, and we’ve got the car. There’s a lot of people who are suffering and don’t have that.”

That’s kind of how things are going in Los Angeles. Rents have risen while pay remains flat, the homeless population is growing, and some folks consider themselves fortunate to live in a car.

Nothing can lift them out of the hole

Margaret said her Social Security check is just above $1,000, and Chris gets about $200 in general relief and $200 worth of food stamps.

Even if they could find an apartment for less than $1,000, they said, they’d have nothing left. So they’re coping, hoping to find work that lifts them out of the hole.

It’d be nice if I could tell you they were outliers, but there are now roughly 58,000 versions of their story in greater Los Angeles. The homeless population increased 23% over last year, even though 14,000 people were helped off the streets.

We’re going backward, in other words. And who knows how many more people are on the brink?

The median per capita income in L.A. County is less than $30,000, and for households it’s about $55,000. So for those who pay the median rental price of $1,995 for a one-bedroom apartment, or $2,400 for multiple bedrooms, there isn’t much left over.

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