Poor and white in affluent Orange County, CA | #Precariat on Blog#42

Conservative readers like to cite the demographic statistics for wealth in Orange County, California (OC) whenever they dispute my comments on the economic recovery, . The county is quite large and populous and, by no means, do all of its residents share equally in the bounty it has to offer. Like Los Angeles, OC has geographical boundaries within which one either finds wealth or utterly desperate pockets of poverty. Unlike the portrayal in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” California’s rich not only don’t tolerate reminders of poverty and desperation, they pay to keep them out of sight.

Mission Viejo is an incorporated city that is mostly made of gated communities and condominium associations. But even within the pricey condo developments, one can easily see multi-generational living and the wear and tear of a lifestyle that can no longer be maintained.

The same is true in the less tony apartment homes communities. As I’ve reported recently, rents have gone up sharply in seven years as salaries have gone way down and “good” full-time jobs became scarce. The only way young people can afford rentals is by sharing. That was the arrangement at the apartment next door and all throughout the rental community.

The park behind the condo development we used to live in during the five years following the start of the Great Recession was home to dozens of homeless families I would hear each night, talking loudly as they partook of the meals they barbecued on the public grills, calmed children, or played on the deserted baseball and basketball courts. Seven years on, they’re still there.

According to PBS radio station KPCC, here are nearly 45,000 homeless in Los Angeles County. Orange County is estimated to have about 4,500. Both counties are seeing an uptick of about 12% over 2013 estimates.

One can find little colonies of homeless in every single one of the well-to-do towns of South County. Last week’s essay on the precariat was inspired by a note left by a family at a local Starbucks. Apparently, their life had become too unstable to keep their dog. They were looking for someone who might take him in for a few weeks.

Today, while driving north and east toward Pasadena, my husband noticed a homeless encampment under a bridge just north of the I-5 freeway.

My husband met “Robert,” a 22 year old young man. He and his mom have been living in one of the tents you see above for the last two years. The OC Sheriffs largely leave this tent city under the I-5 alone, except for when there is a marathon or some such event. When asked if he’s aware of the dangers of living in a flood channel, especially with the expected El Nino, his answer was that there is nowhere else the homeless are allowed to stay. He recently found some work and hopes to move into America’s new social class and more permanent housing in the near future.

While I hope to meet him again soon and interview him and his mom, I hope they will have found a safer and more permanent living arrangement.

  • noplace

    And there is San Pedro the capital of homelessness in USA. It was heart breaking to go there to buy meat for my Afghans. The veterans were hardest to see. Most of them belonged to hospice and good care. We just moved to Laguna Niguel and you and I should have a coffee one day. Great post Rima.

    • Thank you! San Pedro has been that way for as long as we’ve lived in the greater LA area.

      I’d love to meet over coffee. I am usually free on Fridays and weekends (No classes to drive to). Let’s meet soon!

  • Suzy Que

    Back in ’67-’72, there was also a terrible homeless population in LA when I lived there. Guess it’s always been that way. And the homeless were harassed.I remember that there was someone killing them. Huge numbers of Viet Nam veterans ended up on the streets. Guess they’re still there along with today’s war vets. Depressing.

    • The late sixties were a time of economic difficulty throughout the nation. That said, Los Angeles has always been a bit like Argentina at the height of the Peron years, with gross income inequality. But today’s homelessness is a confluence of a lot of factors that were not quite as pronounced back then. The population has exploded and the Great Recession has changed the housing landscape. Add to that the real loss in terms of wages and the extreme demand for affordable housing, even people who have two jobs each have a hard making the rent. You have to make at least $30 an hour in LA in order to live sparsely.

      Vets are actually doing a lot better. The Los Angeles VA has made a lot of progress and in So Cal (Orange County included) they are at the top of the Section 8 lines. There is no help for those who are not vets and have exhausted their welfare benefits.

      • Suzy Que

        Thanks for the update which is somewhat heartening regarding vets. Back when I was there (sorry for all my reminiscing but can be juxtaposed on today), in spite of the hatred vets received back then, in San Francisco many young people, who were great friends of mine at the time, got together to form the Center for Independent Living which was hugely helpful for Veterans who came back maimed & worse and otherwise unable to take care of themselves and climb out of despair. Our government did practically nothing for them. During protests against the Vietnam war, I personally witnessed police in riot gear literally throwing vets along with their wheelchairs off a balcony.

        Yes, today is different. But what was happening then was the beginning of modern income inequality. Our youth (I was among them) was treated similarly to how the “Black Lives Matter” movement is today (not trying to compare our plight entirely). Reagan was Governor and began the scapegoating of kids who were too aware of all the things we are finally addressing seriously today.

        • Horrible the brutality cops have gotten away with, and for so long!

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