LOS ANGELES — As most of us start winding down for the night, Rosie Hunter packs her van and hits the streets.
"We come out Monday through Friday, every day about 6 to 10," she said.
What You Need To Know
- The last homeless count, done just before the pandemic reached the U.S., showed homelessness in Los Angeles was already at an all-time high, with 66,433 people living in the streets
- Since then, unemployment numbers have quadrupled
- The number of tents at the Hollywood Gower Street encampment has mushroomed over the last six months, from a cluster of structures to a full-blown tent city
- For Rosie Hunter, the last few months have been rough
An outreach worker for Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless youth, Hunter and her colleagues, Nick Semensky and Sandy Andres, have spent the last three years delivering food, blankets, and hope to some 20 homeless encampments throughout Los Angeles County.
"I love the smile on their faces when I show up," Hunter said. "Just giving them a choice of what they want to eat, that's something they never get to do. And so just asking them, 'Hey, what do you want today.' That's something they never get to do."
Her first stop is the Atwater homeless encampment right by the Los Angeles River.
"This encampment is like a mixture of people," she said. "They look for another here. They share their food. They watch out for each other. The downside of it, it's dark over here, secluded, of course, with that comes drug use, a lot of violence."
Even before COVID-19, her job was challenging. Now, it's nearly overwhelming, with more stops added every day.
"Normally, we would do about four [stops], and we'd run out of food," Hunter said. "Now, we do like six, and often times we have to refuel with food and blankets and then come back out."
It's hard to know how many people have become homeless since the pandemic began. The last count, done just before the COVID-19 reached the U.S., showed homelessness in Los Angeles was already at an all time high, with 66,433 people living in the streets. Since then, unemployment numbers have quadrupled.
Nowhere is that despair more evident than at the Gower Street encampment in Hollywood, just under the 101 Freeway.
"This is way busier than I've ever seen," Hunter said. "Normally, when I pull up like this, I usually have a space right here where I can actually stand away from everyone else. It's definitely more people here."
The number of tents has mushroomed over the last six months, from a cluster of structures to a full-blown tent city.
George Bartlet has been homeless on and off since he was a teenager. He's one of the lucky ones — with his shack built from scraps. In the last few months, he's seen a wave of newbies. He says they're easy to spot because they still have their suitcases.
"The people who haven't [been] homeless before they come through here with their cars, with their last money in their savings account and they're trying to fit in. They don't know how to be homeless," he said.
He's tried to help them, but there's only so much to go around.
For Hunter, the last few months have been rough. But what keeps her going are those small moments of gratitude.
"When they smile, it makes me happy that I'm showing up for them, and that's like the best feeling in the world," she said.