As those of you who were following my travels through Europe and the USA know, I didn’t just spend the first three months of 2017 at the beach! I also spent a lot of time building connections with other social enterprises and charities, including The Hippie Kitchen in Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
I was first introduced to The Hippie Kitchen by Gary Hurt, Moeloco’s US Ambassador. Set up over ten years ago, it is an entirely self-run organisation, with no government grants and staff working on a volunteer basis. And one day after some heavy rain, I was one of those volunteers. I rocked up at 7 in the morning, and was given the job of buttering bread rolls, which I did for the next two hours. We were serving black beans, rice, bread rolls and salad, with croissants as the special treat for the week. The Hippie Kitchen provides lunch to Skid Row’s homeless three times a week, with a policy that everyone who walks through the doors must be provided for. The foot traffic was full on until 2 in the afternoon, as people from all over Skid Row came for food. Some objected to beans or bread rolls, even joking that they were watching their diet! Some just took what they were given, and were very humble and grateful. I don’t know what the next step is, but at least there was hope and smiles for that day.
Although I have seen extreme poverty during visits to India, I found my experience in The Hippie Kitchen completely overwhelming, and it wasn’t just because you don’t expect to see this level of poverty in the USA. Even with the atrocities in India, I love working with the people; there is a sense of joy and community, and a sense of hope for a brighter future. There was none of this in LA – their faces were vacant, like zombies. Most were so disconnected that they wouldn’t look you in the eye or speak. Occasionally someone is jovial, like one man who sang us a song, and a few were well-groomed, but overall I got a sense of it being like a war zone. There was a powerful sense of irony when I noticed that we were at the foothills of the Hollywood sign. Another volunteer who had been to India also agreed that it was worse than the slums.
So, how do Australia, Skid Row and Los Angeles, and Kolkata all compare?
– In Australia, it is estimated that one in every 200 people are homeless on any given night. Much of this is invisible, as overcrowded dwellings, staying with other households and staying in boarding houses are common. 30% of homeless people in Australia are migrants, and one quarter are Indigenous Australians (who only make up 3% of the general population). While the Northern Territory and Queensland have seen a drop in homelessness from 2006 to 2011, all other states have seen the problem worsen.
– Los Angeles has the second largest number of homeless people, at 46,875. Los Angeles has the largest number of chronically homeless residents in the USA, at 13,468 people.
– There are around 78 million homeless people in India (1 in 16 people), 11 million being street children. In Kolkata alone, there are over 70,000 homeless residents, although governments often downplay statistics to improve their credit rating.
– Kolkata has a population of 4.5 million in the city, and 14.1 million when you include the surrounding suburbs. Los Angeles had a 2015 population of almost 4 million in the city, and 13 million in total.
– High property prices, health problems, and inability to find work after moving to the area are some of the problems behind homelessness in LA.
– Although the homeless population rose by 6%, the chronically homeless population in LA dropped by 5% between 2015 and 2016, partly because of rental support programs and health services which mainly target families.
– The infamous Skid Row has one of the highest concentrations of displaced people in LA. Despite its tiny size, it is “home” to 3% of homeless people in the USA. There are anywhere between 2,500 and 11,000 homeless in Skid Row. A high density of services such as shelters contributes to this number, as people travel to, or are even dumped by mental health institutions, into the area to access them.
– In India, the urban and rural homeless populations fell by 20% and 28% respectively from 2001 to 2011.
Perhaps there may be room for social enterprises to provide economic empowerment to the homeless people in Skid Row and LA in general, as well as Australia. Fortunately in India, The HOPE Foundation already gives these opportunities to many families and young adults, and gives many street children an education, healthcare and a normal, fun childhood. And if you have purchased a pair of Moeloco flip-flops, then chances are that it was a street child who received a pair of shoes on your behalf.
Until next time,