According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are more than half a million homeless people in the United States today. That is a large number, for sure. But it actually represents a decrease in the homeless population. Between 2007 and 2017, “overall homelessness decreased 14.4 percent,” the group says.

Out of the 50 states, 30 recorded decreases in homelessness, while 20 saw increases. Among those 20 states is California, where a rise in homelessness was just described by The Los Angeles Times editorial board as a “national disgrace.”

Associated Press photographer Jae C. Hong set out in 2017 to document the plight of people living in Los Angeles’s “Skid Row,” a downtown area with one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. In an AP Images blog, Hong says he was compelled to document life in Skid Row because he was repulsed by it. “Initially, it wasn’t to bring awareness to the plight of the people there or to give voice to the homeless,” he writes. “It was more of a visual curiosity.” Hong goes on to say:

“I dialed 911 four times to get help for people. One was a drug addict passed out in the middle of a street intersection on Skid Row. Another was a naked woman in a tree in Santa Ana talking to herself in Spanish.

“There’s always an internal struggle. As a photographer, I want to capture the moment because my job is to tell the story. As a human, the agony can be too hard to watch. Some don’t know they need help or that help exists.

“I have sympathy for the poor. I don’t judge them now that I’ve seen so many people in dire situations from different circumstances and have heard about their lives. Many times I’ve tried to comfort them with encouraging words.”

What Hong shows us through his lens is a collection of people living raw, destitute lives in a place the Los Angeles Times describes as “a Dickensian dystopia in downtown Los Angeles.” There are many people  there — some because of economic reasons and some for mental health reasons. But what is certain is that the sight of so many people without a place to live is a heart-rending one, as you can see through Hong’s images here.

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