California’s Housing Crisis: Tales of Trailer Living and Homelessness

2023-07-22 18:59:33

PLAYA DEL REY: Tamara moved into a trailer because she mightn’t pay her rent anymore. Beau did it following losing everything. As for Steven, he was tired of suffering crime in the only neighborhoods where he might still afford to live.

In California, the “trailers”, once hippie symbols of a free life or today new digital nomads, also testify to a much less glamorous social phenomenon: a housing crisis.

One of the US states with the highest per capita income, California, is also the one with the most homeless people. A third of the country’s homeless live in this state, which has 11% of the American population.

And with the housing crisis, many now have caravans, motorhomes, vans, mobile homes as their only roof, installed in sometimes improvised campsites in Los Angeles, where the authorities count around 75,000 homeless people, and cities around.

Rent close to $3,000

“It’s the only thing I can afford,” says Beau Beard, pointing to his trailer parked in a narrow alley a stone’s throw from the hubbub of touristy Venice Beach.

For him, California was synonymous with a new beginning following a 42-month stay in prison. But he quickly became disillusioned.

“Here, it is the most expensive price per m2 on the real estate market” in the United States, laments this 57-year-old man. In June, the average rent reached 2,950 dollars (2,650 euros) per month in Los Angeles.

In 2021, seven million Americans spent more than half of their income on housing, up 25% from 2007, according to a study by the National Alliance on Homelessness, an NGO.

When his fiancée told him they were expecting a child in 2020, Beau bought a trailer to shelter his little family.

But child protection services didn’t like it. And withdrew custody of their daughter shortly following birth, believing that their accommodation was not suitable. She will be three years old on July 29.

“We’re stuck. We don’t know what to do,” he says, sitting on the porch of his blue trailer, which not only deprives him of his daughter, but also of any help finding subsidized housing.

We are “in a gray area (…) and that puts us at the bottom of the list for housing requests”, he complains.

“outcasts”

His caravan is not alone on Jefferson Boulevard, which runs along the Ballona Ecological Reserve.

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Here and there artistic installations, small gardens, chairs, tables line the caravans, a sign that some inhabitants have settled down.

But life is complicated, says Tamara Hernández, a makeup artist who left her apartment in Venice when the rent skyrocketed. In ten years, the rent for his studio has gone from 450 to 3,000 dollars.

Now, “to wash myself, you have to wait an hour to heat the water (…) It’s really hard here”, she says. And to the difficulties of everyday life is added the feeling of being pariahs. “I don’t know why people hate us. We’re good people.”

«Impossible»

Steven, who prefers not to give his last name, is employed in a supermarket.

He has lived here with his wife for two years. With their two salaries, they mightn’t afford more than a van, which they bought used for $6,000.

With prices rising by 6.5% in 2022 in the United States, the number of homeless people has increased in Los Angeles and other cities in the United States.

But in Los Angeles, the contrast is striking between the palaces of Hollywood and the homeless who sleep on the famous “Walk of Fame”, a famous avenue where the stars leave their footprints.

Steven, he dreams of other horizons.

“I’m saving to buy land, in Arkansas, or Missouri (…) I want to build a pond for fish and have a vegetable garden. Do you understand? But in California, that’s not likely to happen, it’s impossible.”

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