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.