Crisis Worsens for Homeless Women, Report Finds

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis held up the DWC's report, saying that Los Angeles needs more state and federal dollars to address the crisis of women experiencing homelessness. 

Homelessness among women has increased in the last year, with 10,845 women experiencing homelessness in the City of Los Angeles, and more women experiencing homelessness for the first time, according to a new report from the Downtown Women’s Center.

The Downtown Women’s Center, in partnership with the University of Southern California, unveiled the 2019 Los Angeles City Women’s Needs Assessment on Thursday, Jan. 30 at its facility in Skid Row at 444 S. San Pedro St. Incoming Downtown Women’s Center CEO Amy Turk, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis were among the local leaders who presented the findings of the report.

“There is a hidden crisis within the crisis that is overlooked and underreported,” Turk said at the event. “Every night....11,000 women are experiencing homelessness. 18,000 women across the county are enduring the harsh indignities of homelessness. To solve this crisis we must understand the real conditions homeless women face every single day.”

The Downtown Women’s Center has put out the report every three years since 2001, but only previously focused on the Skid Row area. The 2019 report marks the first time it has looked at the wider citywide conditions. The new report splits analysis among various Service Program Areas. SPA 4 is Metro Los Angeles, including Downtown’s Skid Row.

Disparities

Almost half of the women that the DWC and USC surveyed are experiencing homelessness for the first time. Additionally, chronic homelessness (that is, homelessness more than four times in a three-year period) is also on the rise, with 73.8% of those surveyed identifying as chronically homeless.

“[The report is] showing us again something that some of us already kind of knew inherently, but again we got real numbers,” Solis said. “The picture isn’t as rosy as we would like.”

The 2019 Los Angeles Women’s Needs Assessment comes in the wider context of rising homelessness in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2019 homeless count found a 16% increase in Los Angeles city to 36,300 and a 12% increase across the county to 58,936. According to LAHSA’s numbers and the DWC, there was a 41% increase in the number of women who are homeless in the county over 2013, up to 18,331. According to LAHSA’s numbers 9,577 women were homeless in the city in 2018. Last month volunteers conducted three nights of surveying for this year’s count; the results of the 2020 count are expected in late spring.

The analysis also found that the number of homeless women in South Los Angeles rose by 35% in 2019, per LAHSA’s 2019 homeless count.

The DWC report found that the driving factor behind the crisis of women experiencing homelessness is the rising rents and expensive housing market of Los Angeles — 82% of women surveyed reported that housing is the hardest thing to access. Approximately 70% of low-income women are severely rent-burdened, according to the City of Los Angeles Women’s Housing Gap Analysis (a report produced by USC, the DWC and the city, specifically about housing), which the DWC cited. In the last year, 18.2% of women surveyed by the DWC found themselves evicted.

The report also identified racial disparity among homeless women. Black people account for 9% of the city’s population, but black women represent 39.7% of the women on Skid Row (and 28.7% of the citywide number of homeless women). The Los Angeles City Council has placed a particular focus on racial disparities amongst its homeless population. A report released in February of last year found that despite making up just 8% of the county’s population, black people make up close to 36% of the county’s homeless population.

LGBTQ women are also facing high rates of homelessness, with 83.3% of those surveyed identifying as chronically homeless. The population of homeless women is also older around Downtown; the citywide average age according to the report is 48, but in SPA 4, 50.7% of the women surveyed are ages 51 or older.

“As we scaled geographically in the report we noted a bit of a younger age across the city,” Turk told Los Angeles Downtown News. “But in the Skid Row community, it’s still in the age range of the 50s and 60s.”

Garcetti said that the crisis of unhoused women is not contained to Skid Row, but affects every neighborhood across Los Angeles.

Dangers and Violence

Turk and the report both said that violence is one of the most distinguishing effects for homeless women compared to homeless men. Per the DWC’s findings, 60.2% of women said that they had “sometimes” experienced violence in the past 12 months. Twenty-seven percent of women also reported being victims of sexual assault in that time period, and 43.6% of women said they had been victims of a crime in general.

“We were not surprised that 60% were victims of violence,” Turk said. “It’s also disproportionate among people who identify as LGBTQ+.”

Per the report, 35.7% of LGBTQ women experienced sexual assault in the last 12 months, and 52.4% were victims of domestic violence.

“Violence is violence,” Garcetti said, “whether it’s economic violence, whether it’s physical violence, whether it’s psychological violence, and we know at least half of all women who are experiencing homelessness have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives, often it’s the reason they’ve become unhoused.”

Turk said that as part of addressing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles there needs to be more focus on trauma-informed care, with service providers trained to be more mindful of issues such as domestic violence and the difficult experience of living on the streets.

“It’s about coming from a place of thinking about people through the lens not of what’s wrong with them but what happened to them,” Turk said.

The DWC’s 2019 report found that 35% of those surveyed felt like outreach and case managers didn’t understand trauma, while 40% said that housing resource providers did not understand.

Both elected officials and the DWC report said that expanding affordable and supportive housing remains a paramount issue.

Solis added that housing and services can’t be concentrated in certain areas in the county. She said that all types of housing — affordable, transitional and permanent supportive — are needed to properly help women get off the streets.

At Thursday’s event, Garcetti said that the city and county have put up the money to try and address the wider homelessness crisis in the Los Angeles area, but need additional funds from the state and the federal government.

nslayton@timespublications.com.