Midnight Mission’s Michael Arnold spoke to Mishkon Venice about the homeless crisis

By Holly Jenvey

The Mishkon Venice hosted Michael Arnold, president and CEO of Midnight Mission, on Jan. 17 to raise awareness of how locals can continue to help the homeless. The event was followed on Jan. 24 by a drive-thru clothing drive for the homeless at Mishkon.

Since 1914, Midnight Mission, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, has been helping the homeless become more self-sufficient. More than 100 years later, they now have to tackle homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With locations in Downtown Los Angeles, Inglewood and the South Bay, Midnight Mission is helping the homeless while informing the community about the magnitude of the problem and common misconceptions.

“Just the scope of the problem is a huge, huge issue,” Arnold said of the homeless epidemic in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

He presented charts from the LA County Homeless Count, which showed how the homeless problem is changing year by year. In 2019, the total homeless count was 58,936. In 2020, it increased by 12.7% to 66,436. Out of the different homeless categories (veteran, family, youth and chronic), chronic increased the most by 54% (from 16,528 to 25,640).

Arnold also addressed the common misperceptions that people become homeless due to drug addiction, not wanting to get help, and how homelessness increases crime in neighborhoods. He said these perceptions are false.

Instead, the main key drivers of homelessness are economic hardship (59% of homeless population), weakened social network (39%), disabling health condition (24%), system discharge including foster care, prison/jail, mental hospitals (11%) and violence (8%).

Arnold also mentioned how the lack of affordable housing escalates the problem.

“We have all of these regulations for developing affordable housing,” he said.

According to Arnold’s presentation, LA needs over 500,000 units of low-income and affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing also contributes to high rent in the city. A minimum wage employee needs to work 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom residence. Another factor is high housing insecurity. More than 50% of LA households spend over half of their income on housing.

“We have systemic failures that drive homelessness and our best bet to fix it is to shut that front door,” Arnold said.

He also said a lot of people don’t come to LA homeless but end up so because of a lack of understanding about the cost of living. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the situation.

Midnight Mission has had to reduce occupancy at their facilities to prevent the spread of the virus. They require residents and staff to wear masks at all times and have introduced strict protocols early on.

Midnight Mission contained one COVID-19 outbreak and is testing every week. They are working on making blankets, increasing supplies, providing hand sanitizer, and drawing off more opportunities to learn about distancing and safe practicing. There are also outdoor showers that are open to the public.

Prior to the pandemic, Midnight Mission had been focusing on improving the health of its residents. There is case management assigned to everyone, which determines what paths are needed for the resident to get back on their feet and not become homeless again. The government pays for case management and meals.

Facilities include on-site medical and mental health clinics, a gymnasium and a library. The facilities are gender-inclusive and serve families as well. Midnight Mission also has a women’s program and offers education and career development services.

“Get to know a few folks with experiences with homelessness and I guarantee it will change your perspective,” Arnold said.

Midnight Mission accepts donations of towels, blankets, socks and underwear. For more information, visit midnightmission.org