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Taking Action to Help the Homeless in Los Angeles

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In Los Angeles, the sight of homelessness is all too common. 

The problem is present in virtually every neighborhood, from Skid Row to Bel Air. For many Angelenos, to step over the homeless on the sidewalk — or look away from an encampment under an overpass — is an everyday occurrence.

But the facts of this crisis have become too staggering for Angelenos to ignore. Homelessness has surged 75 percent in six years. An estimated 57,000 people will be without a home in Los Angeles tonight. Many of these people are families and children; veterans and friends. 

Understanding the roots of the problem

In the latest UCLA Anderson Forecast, economist William Yu illuminates the factors behind this recent increase. For many, California’s unprecedented housing crisis sends the price of rent skyrocketing out of reach. Yu also points to other factors exacerbating homelessness: 26 percent of homeless individuals in California are severely mentally ill, 18 percent chronically abuse drugs and 24 percent are victims of domestic abuse. 

With a public-health crisis unfolding in real time, UCLA students, researchers and faculty are taking action to apply knowledge and confront homelessness where it’s happening.

Bringing knowledge to the streets

Seven days a week, a truck rumbles off UCLA’s campus and into the streets of Hollywood and Santa Monica. The truck belongs to the Mobile Clinic Project at UCLA, a program staffed by medical, law and public-health student volunteers. The students work together to run outreach and fund-raising and provide free primary care and legal services for the homeless. 

On a typical evening, medical students work with patients one-on-one, registering them, asking questions and taking detailed notes. They check blood pressure and dispense medication, and when confronted with serious health issues, arrange transportation to a nearby hospital or health clinic. At a table nearby, UCLA law students and an advising attorney help clients navigate eviction notices, court appearances and other issues. 

For the volunteers, the Mobile Clinic offers a valuable opportunity for hands-on training and experience. For the patients and clients in the community, the knowledge and services provided by the Mobile Clinic are invaluable. 

Fostering recovery through public psychiatry

Mental illness can make it very difficult for homeless individuals to take advantage of programs and services. Responding to this tragic catch-22, UCLA psychiatry students are embracing a hands-on approach to mental health and homelessness.  

UCLA psychiatry students at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior are actively involved in a range of programs and partnerships with law enforcement, the criminal justice system, legislators and social service providers. UCLA public psychiatry residents go on site visits, engaging patients in outpatient clinics for veterans, Skid Row and the Los Angeles County Jail.

Like many of the major challenges of our time, homelessness can feel like an intractable problem. Every day, in ways large and small, UCLA students, researchers and faculty prove that progress is possible. That solutions start with knowledge. And that change happens when people collaborate and apply their knowledge to make our community a better place.