Are the homeless better off in Los Angeles or Moscow?

A Russian criticism of L.A.'s homeless population is rich with ironies

Kate Lieb By Kate Lieb

Homeless Los Angeles resident David Lowe in Beverly Hills, California in May 2012. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Los Angeles, the city of angels, is known for Hollywood celebrities and glamor. Moscow, city of oligarchs, is home to more billionaires than any other place on Earth.

But there’s an underside to the wealth of both cities: large homeless populations.

In a recent article, Russia’s RT lambastes L.A. for playing up its glitzy image of prosperity while 51,000 homeless Angelinos live out of their cars, on the street or in shelters — more than in any other city in the United States. The author criticizes how much the “haves” flaunt their money — think fancy Malibu mansions, pools in Beverly Hills and gated communities in San Fernando Valley — while the “have-nots” suffer.

“The wealthiest rest safely behind their elegant walls, while some of the city’s poorest face another long night against a warehouse wall,” the author writes. “A lavish mansion costing more than $50 million in Beverly Hills is unthinkable for most people in a city where one in five children live on the streets.”

Clearly homelessness is a problem in L.A. But, ironically, it’s probably a bigger issue in Russia, particularly in Moscow.

Russia boasts a whopping 96 billionaires, according to Forbes magazine. Seventy-eight of them call Moscow home, making it the billionaire capital of the world. There are no official statistics on the city’s homeless population. But reports estimate that around 100,000 homeless people live in the Russian capital. Moscow’s population is around 10.5 million people.

On the other hand, L.A., with population of around 9.9 million, boasts 10 billionaires.

So it seems the gap between rich and poor is likely more stark in Moscow than in L.A. But how do the two cities treat their homeless populations? That’s the important question.

The RT piece says expected budget cuts will harm the homeless in L.A. “It will be those in lines for the soup kitchens, not the grass fed beef and organic arugula, who will feel the pinch of California’s belt tightening,” the report says.

But, according to a caption in a 2011 Ria Novosti story, well-off Russians often physically attack the homeless. The same story says Moscow’s shelters can hold 1,200 people. If the estimated homeless population above is correct, Moscow’s shelters accommodate only one percent of the city’s homeless population.

Meanwhile, in L.A., shelters have a total of 12,000 beds, enough for 20 percent of homeless Angelinos.

Isn’t there a cliché about glass houses that’s appropriate here?