Los Angeles's notorious Skid Row feels like death row for the 1,700 down-and-out souls who sleep on sidewalks and in cardboard boxes along the streets.
But for one night every week, many of them can break free and hit some high notes at a karaoke night held at a church in the heart of the poverty-stricken neighborhood.
In the Associated Press video above, people from all walks of life belt out soulful tunes, pour their pain about their personal struggles into the mic, and relish in five minutes of fame. These joyous moments will make your heart melt.
Pastor Tony Stallworth of the Community Church of the Nazarene, where the karaoke night is held, was once homeless and addicted to drugs, and has made it his mission for the past 17 years to uplift the spirits of a segment of the population that's ignored, marginalized, and neglected on a daily basis.
"I was on drugs for like 20 years and I ended up homeless and pushing a basket with everything that I owned in it," he tells the AP. "We want to make sure people feel the love that we have for them. I really honestly love them, I don’t care what kind of shape you’re in because I was in that shape."
LA’s homelessness problem is getting worse
A report released this month by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the agency tasked with addressing homelessness in the LA area, found that the number of homeless residents in both the city and county of LA jumped 12 percent in the past two years.
In LA county, 44,359 homeless people were counted in January 2015, up from 39,461 in 2013. And more than half — 25,686 — were in the city of Los Angeles — which has been dubbed the homeless capital of the United States.
But what's even more devastating is that the report found that the number of tents, makeshift encampments — like the ones found on Skid Row — and vehicles with people living in them soared 85 percent, from 5,335 in 2013 to 9,535.
The figures show that homelessness is increasing not only in expected places like downtown LA’s poverty-stricken Skid Row but across the county in every district.
"California was one of the hardest-hit states in the country during the economic recession, suffering high unemployment and high job losses," the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said in a news release. "There is a lag in rebound, and the working poor and low-income individuals have been hit particularly hard, with the trifecta of unemployment, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing."
The city of Los Angeles spends $100 million a year dealing with its homeless population, the LA Times reported in April. But most of the funds (up to $87 million) go toward law enforcement costs like policing and patrolling — not actually housing the people who need it most.
However, studies suggest it is more cost-effective to combat homelessness by providing long-term housing than it is to keep people on the streets — where they are bound to jump from shelter to shelter, or end up in emergency rooms and jails.
Which states have the worst rates of homelessness?
Homelessness is, of course, not a problem unique to LA. It plagues cities and states across the nation — more than 600,000 Americans on a single night in 2013.
And despite the harmful stigma of homeless people and their desire to work, 17 percent of homeless adults in families had paying jobs and 55 percent were employed during the previous year, according to a 2013 US Department of Housing and Urban Development study.
This map below compiled by Tim Henderson at Stateline, a Pew Charitable Trusts reporting outlet, gives an idea of how homelessness stacks up in each state.
Hawaii, known as a tropical paradise, has the highest homelessness rate (487 homeless people per 100,000 residents) in the US. That's followed by New York and Nevada.