LA’s Neglect of Homeless People Reminiscent of Dark Ages

homeless tents skid row los angeles

When we think of the Dark Ages, of the Medieval Era, we imagine a time and place that must have been difficult for people to bear. Plague, famine and perpetual war marked this period. It was a time when chaos swept much of the world. So many fatalities occurred daily that the dead lay rotting in the streets as civilians struggled to keep up with the body count. Unburied corpses and starving orphans battling incurable diseases covered the land. During the Medieval Era, approximately 25% of newborns didn’t live to see their first birthday. Some of the most common predicaments that exemplified these times included:

  • People living in shacks and inadequate makeshift shelters
  • Increase in plagues and deadly diseases
  • Little access to educational resources
  • Buildings dilapidated due to lack of maintenance
  • Lack of proper sewage disposal
  • Lack of garbage removal
  • A surge in underemployment marked by scattered work hours based on seasons
  • Limited or no access to medical treatment and medication
  • Widespread violence waged against the working class

There Were Warning Signs Before the Dark Ages Hit the Whole of Roman Society, But They Went Largely Ignored. And It’s Happening Again.

As dark as these times may have seemed to historians, the Medieval Era, and its subsequent dilemmas, didn’t strike without warning. The clouds of a brewing storm lingered in the air for quite some time but went ignored. Just before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, greed fueled a society of contrasting opulence and extreme poverty. The gloomy atmosphere was somewhat gilded initially. The poor people of society were hidden behind awe-striking monuments, prestigious architecture, and impressive technological advances.

As the gap between the rich and poor grew larger still, the poverty-stricken members of society were the first to fall. It is arguable in the least to suggest their fall was what ultimately led to the fall of the empire itself. Many of the extreme conditions that hit the general population were problems Roman poor people had been battling for centuries.

Poor people did not cause these conditions. Rather, they were caused by conditions brought on by extreme poverty. We must understand and acknowledge this distinction- because it is happening all over again right now.

California, 2019: Homelessness Skyrockets Amid a Housing Crisis That Crushes the Heart of the Middle Class

Homelessness in California (particularly LA, but other regions trail closely behind) hearkens an eerie resemblance to the decade leading up to the Dark Ages. It is again, a gloomy atmosphere gilded by the glamour of opulence and wealth. It is a time and place where impressive architecture and fast-paced innovation mask the extreme conditions that working-class Californians must face on a daily basis. As the gap between wealth and poverty grows, and as wages fail to keep up with rent increases, what lies beneath the bright skyline is a scene straight out of a dark page of history. Here’s a look at how closely LA’s homeless problem resembles ancient history.

People living in shacks and inadequate makeshift shelters.

LA County alone, holds a record-breaking 58,936 homeless people. Homelessness in general, has increased by 16% in the City of LA, by 17% in San Francisco, by 50% in Kern County, and by 42% in Orange County. So where is California’s ever-growing homeless population residing as of late? For the most part, California’s homeless residents reside in tents and inadequate makeshift shelters, positioned underneath the awe-inspiring architecture of the city, just as the working-class Romans once did. If we are not careful, this could signify a bleak future for all and should serve as a warning.

Increase in plagues and deadly diseases.

Due to the extreme conditions and lack of sanitary services for homeless people, many medieval plagues and diseases such as Typhus, Typhoid Fever, and Tuberculosis have returned to California. These outbreaks are not isolated incidents. They could easily spread to other regions, causing a plague-ridden nation to stand on its last legs.

Little access to educational resources.

Between 2016 and 2017, 1.4 million students were homeless nationwide. Approximately 21% hail from the state of California. Academic achievement for homeless students poses unique and often impenetrable obstacles. For that reason, one study cites that California’s economy takes a $3.2 billion blow as a direct result of homeless students dropping out of the education system entirely.

Buildings dilapidated due to lack of maintenance.

As the housing crisis rages on, the only thing outnumbering homeless people is the number of empty, abandoned houses. It is said that San Francisco alone has 100,000 empty houses falling apart because they are too pricey to sell. For severely rent burdened and homeless families, these vacant dwelling spaces are becoming makeshift homes, despite the fact that they are unsanitary and unsafe.

Lack of proper sewage disposal and garbage removal.

Basic sanitation services such as working toilets and garbage removal are almost completely non-existent amid the homeless encampments and makeshift shelters of LA. As a result, illegal dumping burdens the sewage system. Garbage often overloads the streets. These conditions give way to a rise in rodent and insect infestations, as well as plagues and other communicable diseases. County Health Officer Montu Davis crafted a letter out of concern for health and public safety. The letter expressly stated the following in addition to other statements, “If encampments are allowed to persist, it is ‘essential’ that street dwellers be provided not only with toilets, which are rare on Skid Row, but hand washing stations with soap, water and paper towels.”

A surge in underemployment marked by scattered work hours based on seasons.

In what appears to be a budding economy, an astounding 1.4 million Californians are not only unemployed, but also discouraged by the lack of opportunities available within the job market. Even with a recent increase in the minimum wage, many workers will not be able to afford to rent an apartment with full-time employment earnings. Additionally, 16% of what they are defining as “United States job growth” is actually temporary seasonal work that cannot sustain a family throughout the year.

Limited or no access to medical treatment and medication.

Universal healthcare is excellent in theory,. But its real-life applications have fallen short. Today, at least 28.5 million people are living without healthcare in the United States. Many of them are homeless or formerly homeless.

Widespread Violence Waged Against the Working Class.

Near the end of the Dark Ages, kings and queens were known to hire soldiers to patrol the streets and raid and steal the belongings of peasants living in shacks along the countryside. Today, we must note that LA is committed to spending $30 million in 2019 to conduct sweeps of homeless encampments. Sweeps are essentially raiding and stealing the belongings of people living in makeshift shelters.

These striking similarities are no coincidence. They are a warning to all of humanity, that we must take heed.

The Housing Crisis Is Adding a Dark Page to What Could Potentially Be a Bright Future

People who blame the poor population for problems caused by poverty itself always wake up on the wrong side of history. More often than not, they wake up too late.

Be sure to talk to your representatives about creating a society where housing is affordable, safe, and available to everyone.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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