Seventeen years ago this month, I met a musician who slept on L.A.'s skid row and talked about trying to get back on track and join an orchestra. Like many homeless people, he fought a daily battle with mental illness that, for him, first surfaced 35 years earlier, when he was a student at Juilliard.
As I got to know Mr. Ayers, I was shocked by how many other castoffs were struggling to survive on the streets, suffering without hope. I began writing about this shameful American reality, thinking that shining a light might spark a collective response to what is, without question, a fixable tragedy.
But nearly two decades in, little has changed.