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Staggering number of the homeless in richest U.S. state 

Tehran Times – New research shows half of American homeless is in its wealthiest state: California. Just below the eye-catching Los Angeles skyline, decorated with a line of tall towers that are home to some of the wealthiest businesses and individuals on the planet is a very dark and grim picture. Skid Row represents one of the most painful yet real-life examples of U.S. economic inequality. 

Spanning just over ten square kilometers, there are between four to five thousand homeless people in Skid Row. They live in tents side by side that stretch to many streets and blocks. 

Some of those who have been living on the streets of Skid Row for a very long time are American army veterans who served in one or more of the numerous wars that the U.S. has waged over the decades. 

From Skid Row the Los Angeles skyline is visible, yet the homeless people here are only a tiny fraction of those who do not have a roof over their heads in the wider state of California.

New research published by the University of California, San Francisco has revealed that there are more than 171,000 homeless people across California. This is the largest study of the state’s homeless population in decades.  

The study has revealed the unknown truth about the State, which is ranked the richest among all 50 states in the U.S.

California alone has more wealth than many countries around the world. Its economy is ranked among the top ten in the world. 

Yet it also has some of the highest poverty rates in the United States, the highest rates of homelessness as well as the highest rates of inequality in America. The rich keep getting richer and the poor continue to become poorer.

The number of homeless people in California, which is now more than 171,000, amounts to about half of all Americans living on the streets in the United States. 

The study by the University of California has also revealed other unknown facts, such as how 90 percent of the state’s homeless people have lost their homes in California and not travelled from other states. 75 percent of Californians now live in the same county where they previously used to own a house. Furthermore, nearly nine out of ten people said that the high cost of house prices is the main hurdle to get out of homelessness.

The research carried out by the University’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative is based on a representative survey of nearly 3,200 homeless people.

It has contradicted several long-standing myths about the population, such as that most unhoused people had come from out of state to take advantage of services. It has also debunked the stereotype that homeless people are mostly young adults who prefer to live on the streets and are not interested in receiving any help.  

One of the most concerning aspects of the research is how the dire economic crisis over the years, among the poor, has forced an increasing number of the elder generation of California’s population to be abandoned on the streets. The research shows 41 percent of California’s residents said they have experienced their first episode of homelessness after they reached the age of 50.

The rising costs of living in California, which is considered the most unaffordable state in the U.S. for housing, where minimum wage earners are being forced to work nearly 90 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

The study also found that non-white residents, despite making up only six percent of California’s general population, account for 26 percent of the homeless population. Black residents are dramatically overrepresented, and the same goes for other minority groups including native Americans who are also significantly suffering on the streets.

The researchers have called on authorities in the wealthy state to raise access to affordable housing for very low-income people, and expand homelessness prevention by providing some financial support and legal assistance.

“People were like, ‘What? What help?’” Dr Margot Kushel, initiative director and lead investigator, told news media outlets “That was heartbreaking.”

Many are struggling to pay their rents or keeping up with their mortgages and this is having a significant impact on whether they would be among the more than 171,000 homeless people in California or whether they will have proper shelter.

“People are homeless because their rent is too high. And their options are too few. And they have no cushion,” Kushel noted, “And it really makes you wonder how different things would look if we could solve that underlying problem.”

As things stand, with state officials providing little to no financial support to the poorer working-class people earning the minimum wage, the figure of homeless people in the state is projected to rise in the coming years.

“Something goes wrong, and then everything else falls apart,” Kushel says. “Everything in their life gets worse when they lose their housing: their health, their mental health, their substance use.”

“This is a problem of this toxic combination of deep poverty and high housing costs,” Kushel added. “We’re a state, like every state in this country, that has a lot of very poor people, and we just don’t have the housing for them.”

The study reflects the wider income and wealth inequality in the United States, which is higher than in almost any other developed country. It has been rising for decades and is still increasing on an annual basis.

According to a think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, in 2021, the top 10 percent of Americans held nearly 70 percent of U.S. wealth. That is up from about 61 percent at the end of 1989.

Experts say that since 1979, the bottom 90% of American workers with low incomes have seen their wages rising very slowly. This is while there has been more government financial support for those who are considered to be financially comfortable. One in 18 Americans are believed to be living in “deep poverty”.

In 2020, this included workers who made around $6,000 a year, or families of four living on less than $13,000. In the same year some 18 million people in the U.S. lived in these extremely dire conditions, including some five million children.

The racial wealth gap is as large as in the 1960s during the civil rights movement that was supposed to bring justice and equal rights for black Americans. Among the systematic discrimination in the U.S. today, black Americans are also being prevented from accessing the country’s riches, which are firmly in the hands of the white population.

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