Kristen Naeem | Signal Tribune
Long Beach residents rallied outside City Hall and filled the seats during Tuesday’s city council meeting to show their support for adding a bond initiative to the November ballot that would expand housing opportunities in order to fight homelessness.
The bond initiative would call for $298 million to be used to build affordable housing units, permanent supportive housing units and increase shelter beds in Long Beach.
The rally on Jan. 7 was organized by the nonprofit group Everyone In Long Beach, a part of the larger Everyone In LA campaign which seeks to eradicate homelessness in Los Angeles County through affordable housing policies.
“Tonight we are focused on bringing in the housing solutions that Long Beach needs in order to help house every single person that we see on our streets,” Everyone In Long Beach’s lead organizer Jordan Wynne said. “We have over 1,800 people on the streets right now who are experiencing homelessness in Long Beach, and that’s only the people that we’ve been able to count. That’s families. That’s seniors. That’s students. That’s our neighbors, our friends.”
Gray Panthers member, Karen Reside, was among the speakers at the rally and shared her personal experience of homelessness with the crowd. Reside had been living with her boyfriend when he abruptly locked her out of their shared apartment. After three days of him not returning her calls, Reside realized she was now homeless.
Reside told the Signal Tribune that although she had been active in housing organizations for years and was well connected, the only place available for her to go was a homeless shelter in Los Angeles. There are currently no year round homeless shelters in Long Beach, though one is being built in the north side of the city.
“I’ve been active in housing circles for a long time,” Reside said. “I had connections. I called friends. I could not find housing anywhere unless I wanted to go to Los Angeles and stay in a shelter. Shelters are not necessarily safe for women, either. […] So, it was a constant battle to find some place to stay. It wasn’t during the winter, so there were no shelters [locally]. The Long Beach shelter wasn’t open, so I didn’t have that as an option.”
This led to a period in which Reside relied on friends who would let her stay on their couches, never being able to stay long for fear of breaching her friends’ lease agreements. On nights she could not find a place to stay, she often didn’t sleep because she was afraid of what someone might do to her.
“I was homeless for three months,” Reside told the crowd. “I don’t want anybody to ever have to experience what I had to experience. Sleeping in a public bathroom [where] I could lock the door so I wouldn’t be raped overnight. Having to wash my hair in park bathrooms. Nobody should have to experience that. The fear–– the uncertainty.”
During her three months of homelessness, Reside was on a waiting list for a subsidized apartment building.
While Reside was receiving Social Security at the time, it was not enough for her to afford to spend nights in motels or hotels. Her small amount of available funds also had to go towards clothing and basic necessities, since her ex-boyfriend still refused to let her have any of her possessions from the apartment.
Reside also commented on the prejudice towards homeless people she witnessed while homeless herself. While Reside said she was not discriminated against in public because she still had an income and was able to keep herself and her clothes clean, many homeless people were not as fortunate and were barred from many public places.
She described how, at the time, she and other homeless people in the area were relying on a Walmart bathroom due to a lack of anywhere else to go. When the business realized this, they began banning anyone who looked noticeably homeless from its restrooms, she said. Reside, due to her appearance, says she was never stopped from using the bathroom by employees.
Finally, a subsidized housing unit opened up and Reside was given the opportunity to move in, but only if she could put down a deposit, something made possible by friends helping her out.
“I cried the first night I spent in my place,” Reside told the Signal Tribune. “I didn’t have any furniture, because he still had my stuff, but at least it was mine, and I could feel safe.”
That was five years ago, now Reside volunteers at the Long Beach Senior Center helping seniors in the community. She told the Signal Tribune that many local senior and elderly residents on a fixed Social Security income find themselves faced with rising rents and the threat of homelessness.
“Every day, people are coming to me [saying,] ‘Landlords are raising my rent, anywhere from $70 to $300. What am I going to do?’ There is nothing right now for them, so that they can stay housed,” Reside told the crowd. “They are forced to make decisions. The largest [growing] homeless population is seniors. Sixty percent of the people that collect Social Security are single women who worked at low wage jobs, and don’t make enough in Social Security benefits to be able to afford housing. Why are we not concerned about their well being?”
Reside encouraged Long Beach residents to vote for the bond initiative, and, if they are able, to donate to one of Long Beach’s many organizations that combat homelessness.