People look at them differently

Residents of Winnetka respond to the homelessness crisis in their community.

For most residents of the Valley the mornings are hectic; children getting ready for school, CEO's hustling to get to their important business meeting on time and students cramming in the last bits of information before their big exam.

For other members of the community mornings are a different, calmer affair. They wake up at their leisure and spend their days roaming the neighborhoods in which they live. At the end of the day, like their fellow members of the West Valley, these individuals go home. However, unlike their fellow members of the West Valley, home to these individuals is either a street corner or a shelter.

A map of where Winnetka is found in the San Fernando Valley.

Although, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Count, the homeless population in Winnetka has gone down by 16% since 2016, residents are still concerned with the amount of people living on the streets. Some for their own safety and others for the safety of the homeless. As of May 2017 the number of homeless individuals in the area is 746 people with 648 of them unsheltered.

Despite the statistics proving otherwise, residents of the community feel as though homelessness is still prevalent and it would appear to them as if the number was rising.

“I noticed the number of homeless people increased out of nowhere,” said Ester. “You never use to see them on this side of the valley.”

A homeless man living out of his trailer. Photo by Andres Pulido

Many Winnetka residents attribute the seemingly rising number of homeless persons to mental health issues which have gone untreated for too long, leading many to self sooth with drugs and alcohol. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Count, mental illness is found in 231 homeless persons and 146 homeless people have substance abuse problems.

“I think it’s all about mental health. A lot of them have mental health issues and if you don’t have a way of dealing with it, and know that you have a mental issue, they then go to drugs or something to calm themselves down,” said concerned resident Edith Garnica. “How can you hold a job when you don’t feel good to go to work?”

Andrea Garcia, resident of the San Fernando Valley, had a different viewpoint than Garnica and believes that although there may be those who suffer from mental illness, those who are younger are choosing to be homeless.

“When I see people that younger age range around my age, I think come on,” explained Garcia. “When I see you sitting on the street all day long when there are hiring signs at Del Taco and McDonald's, there are other options you’re just choosing not to take them.”

A resident who was once homeless himself, Deane Frankenverger, agrees with Garcia’s statement saying that he continued to work while homeless and did everything he could to get back on his feet. In his opinion, “there is no coming back” for those who are simply “moseying around.”

The mans trailer parked outside a park. Photo by Andres Pulido

Many residents disagree with Frankenverger and Garcia’s points of view, and hold the stigma placed on homeless people responsible for such ideas.

“I have a cousin that’s homeless, she has mental health problems,” said Juana Aguilera, a resident of the valley. “People think you’re homeless because you don’t want to work you’re lazy. People look at them differently, they look down on them.”

Garcia also voiced concerns her father has expressed about those homeless individuals that choose to set up encampments in public parks.

“They talk about this homeless community that’s started to accumulate near the park, and one woman commented about finding needles near the park,” she explained. “All it takes is one stick from a needle and there’s definitely some concern.”

A dumpster where a homeless man kept his belongings. Photo by Andres Pulido

Lindsay Burdzinski agrees with her friend Andrea Garcia’s viewpoint and went as far as calling these situations unethical.

Like Burdinski, many individuals expressed their worries when it comes to homeless encampments being set up in their neighborhoods.

“As someone who has experience working with mentally disabled individuals, I understand how dangerous these people can be, especially when they’re desperate for things like food,” said Bryan. “While most are calm and keep to themselves, I still feel unsafe when I’m near one of their encampments.”

A collection of materials available for all homeless persons. Photo by Andres Pulido

Besides mental health issues being brought up as a cause for homelessness, a common thread among residents was that there are not enough programs to help these people.

“Homeless people are everywhere and misunderstood at times,” explains Barbara Lorca. “Many are indeed drug addicts, but others have lost their job and just can’t afford the expensive living in California and there are just not enough state programs to help them back on their feet.”

Ashley Lewis, a new resident to the San Fernando Valley, says she “wouldn’t treat a homeless person any different than” a “CEO and give(s) respect because (she) expect(s) respect in return” and would hope that others would give the homeless that courtesy.

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