LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — There are more than 10 million people living in Los Angeles County, and the latest numbers show more than 86,000 of them are experiencing homelessness, including more than 70,000 who live on the streets.
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“This has been the worst battle of my life,” Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission, said.
Bales has spent the last 35 years being a champion for the most vulnerable, but he said this year has been the hardest.
“We could do so much better than we’re doing if we just treated this like the urgent disaster, the [Federal Emergency Management Agency]-like disaster, that it is,” he said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fewer shelter beds available, which means more people are on the streets.
But the challenges facing Bales lately are more personal in nature.
“This is the case currently holding my amputated left leg,” he said, pulling up on a foam stabilizing device.
Bales, who had his right leg amputated years ago after it became infected with a flesh-eating bacteria he got on the job, had his remaining leg amputated just a few days ago.READ MORE: 'I Hope Paradise Is As You Remember It;' Boy George, Cher, Stephen Fry React To Death Of Meat Loaf
“This leg has been carrying much of the weight whenever I didn’t have a leg for this or when I was getting refitted for a leg,” he said. “And so, eventually, this one got so beat up and broken.”
Though Bales is not one to let a surgery keep him from doing his job. Just one day after the procedure, he attended a ceremony at Angeles House — a 374-bed facility for unhoused families in South Los Angeles.
“The topping-off ceremony,” he said. “We all sign the top beam.”
And while Bales is facing his own struggles, he said what concerns him the most is the number of people who die while living on the streets, an average of five per day, he said.
It’s that staggering number that has Bales urging city and county leaders to provide more beds, starting with sprung units.
“This is not a brand new condo for somebody, right,” Bales said. “But it is better than the streets, it’s better than dying on the streets, and there’s an opportunity for community and recovery.”
But Bales said the new units were only a start and pledged to continue his mission until the issue of homelessness is solved.MORE NEWS: Juzang Scores 28 As No. 9 UCLA Holds Off Utah, 63-58
“Some say I’m crazy,” he said. “I’m just driven.”