Homelessness Soars in Los Angeles

Homelessness Soars in Los Angeles
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Homelessness continues to rise dramatically, increasing by 9% in Los Angeles County and 10% in the city of Los Angeles last year, a stark illustration of the challenges faced by officials trying to reduce the number of people living on the streets. 

Efforts to house people, which include hundreds of millions of dollars spent on shelter, permanent housing and outreach, have failed to stem the growth of street encampments, as reflected in the annual point-in-time count released Thursday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 

The count, conducted by thousands of volunteers during three days in January, projected that 75,518 people were living in interim housing or a tent, car, van, RV, tent or makeshift shelter in Los Angeles County, compared with 69,144 the previous year. 

Since the 2015 count, homelessness has increased by 70% in the county and 80% in the city.

“The results are definitely disappointing with all the hard work and all the investment, but they’re not surprising,” LAHSA’s new chief executive, Va Lecia Adams Kellum, said in a pre-release briefing Tuesday. “We thought with last year’s numbers that we were flattening the curve. However, what we see in this trajectory is that people remain in a situation of vulnerability where they’re falling into homelessness faster than we can house them.

In struggling to explain the continued growth of homelessness, Adams Kellum acknowledged that the reasons are not fully known, but she pointed to economics as the underlying cause. She cited a recent study by UC San Francisco that found that among people who had leases before becoming homeless, a decrease in income was the most common reason for losing their housing. 

Almost all the growth came from the Westside and Harbor areas of Los Angeles, with each seeing increases of just over 2,000 people, or about 45%. 

South L.A., which has the second-highest number of homeless people in the region behind central Los Angeles, countered the trend with a modest 10% decrease of about 1,600 people. The remainder of the county was statistically unchanged.

The increase was entirely made up of people living on the street, as opposed to those in shelters. Countywide, the unsheltered population jumped 14% to more than 55,000, while the count of people in shelters declined slightly to just over 20,000.

The annual count showed an 18% increase in chronic homelessness, with an even sharper rise among those living outdoors. Just over 27,000 people were living on the street who had been homeless more than a year and had a disabling health, mental health or substance use condition, according to the count — nearly 5,000 more than the year before. Another 5,000 chronically homeless people were counted in shelters, for an increase of 7%.

As in previous years, Black people were over-represented, making up 31% of homeless residents, or more than four times greater than their overall share of the county population. The Latino portion leveled off at nearly 43% after increasing substantially in last year’s count. The count of Asians more than doubled, though at 1,212 it was less than 2% of the whole. 

A demographic survey conducted after the count found that 25% of homeless people self-reported experiencing severe mental illness and 30% reported substance use disorder.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass expressed frustration over the latest numbers and concern that the increases would continue as more people fall into homelessness with the end of protections put in place during the pandemic.

“The challenge before us is vast, but we will continue to work with urgency to bring Angelenos inside,” Bass said. “We must sustain our momentum by locking arms with leaders at every level of government as we confront this crisis as the emergency that it is. Lives depend on it.”

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