If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in Southern California, then you might have caught a glimpse of the homelessness that has become epidemic in the region. But if you just notice it from your hotel, or along a surface street as you enter the freeway on your way to Disneyland, then you’re not really getting it.
You don’t see the whole problem until a river mouth washes a dead homeless person into your favorite surf break. Or a toothless meth addict opens up a jerry-rigged manhole cover and crawls out on the bike path in front of you, screaming madly like a caged animal. That’s why this video was such a stark reminder. It’s follow-cam footage of cyclist Robel Gindaba as he rides through a massive homeless camp on the Santa Ana River in Orange County. The bleeding heart in me has a hard time with it all. One of the richest countries in the world boasts one of the worst homeless problems on the planet.
The mean-spirited among us will call it a choice, that it’s a bunch of people looking for a hand out. But from my perch, it seems no one in their right mind would choose to live on the street. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least a quarter of the homeless population is severely mentally ill, while only 6 percent of the non-homeless population suffers from mental sickness. And that’s not even counting those with undiagnosed problems. The rest are severely addicted to drugs or just dirt poor–which doesn’t work in Southern California, where affordable housing is scarce at best (last year, the homeless population jumped a staggering 23 percent in L.A. County alone). And the homeless problem is affecting everyone: from six-time losers to those who’ve served (11 percent of the homeless population in the U.S. is ex-military).
Gindaba road from Katella Avenue to the 22 Freeway in Anaheim. And it looks gnarly. How lucky are we to be able to pursue whatever it is we like to do outdoors, whether cycling, surfing or playing with hula-hoops? And even complain about it when conditions and free-time don’t line up. The people living in this camp don’t seem to enjoy the same choices.