DTLA—The number of people living on the streets or without shelter in Los Angeles County shot up by 12% in a one-year period. Homelessness in the city of Los Angeles grew by 16%, according to figures released this morning.
The rise in homelessness recorded by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is a drastic and distressing counter to figures released last year, when homelessness in the county fell by 4%, to 52,765 individuals. The results of the new Homeless Count, conducted over three days in January by teams that fanned out across the region, found that 58,936 people are now homeless.
The city’s 6% decline reported last year has also been whipsawed. There are now 36,300 homeless individuals in city limits, up from 31,285 last year.
The increase in people experiencing homelessness came despite some success in placing people in housing programs. According to LAHSA, 21,631 people were moved off the streets last year, a significant increase over the 17,000 housed the previous year.
LAHSA Executive Director Peter Lynn said that housing affordability is a primary driver in the increase, and makes bringing down the numbers an uphill battle.
“If we’re able to house more people, and the numbers still leaned up, there’s a real challenge with people becoming homeless,” Lynn said. “We want to focus our attention, and the community’s attention on those dynamics, and especially the dynamics of affordability.”
Homelessness also rose in Downtown Los Angeles, which continues to be the epicenter of the crisis. According to the Homeless Count, there was a 12% increase in people living without shelter in the 14th District, which includes Skid Row. Last year there were 7,068 homeless individuals in the district. This year, 7,896 people were counted.
Fourteenth District City Councilman José Huizar said that more must be done to keep people from falling into homelessness, and that there must be a greater sense of urgency.
“Bottom line, we need to continue to implement the City’s strategic homeless plan, urge the State of California to reform its mental health system, and create a triage-type emergency plan for Skid Row,” Huizar said in a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News.
Other notable findings included:
* An estimated 75% of homeless individuals are unsheltered. Approximately 16,500 people are living in cars, vans or RVs.
* There was a 7% rise in senior homelessness, to 5,225 individuals. Only 970 are sheltered, and more than 4,200 are living on the streets.
* The county recorded a 24% surge in youth homelessness over the previous year. LAHSA attributed the large increase in part to a change in the methodology of counting homeless youth.
* There was a 17% rise in people experiencing homelessness for the first time.
* The number of families who are homeless also continued to rise. The 8,267 homeless family members in 2018 increased to 8,799 in 2019.
* Despite making up just 8% of the population in the county, African Americans were disproportionately represented, making up 33% of the homeless population.
In recent weeks, there was widespread speculation that the homeless tally would increase. Speaking before the results were revealed, Herb Smith, president of Los Angeles Mission in Skid Row, said the mission is at around 95% capacity every night.
“I think we have been sensing it for a while,” Smith said. “I think some of us were surprised with last year’s count. The jury was still out on whether we really were making that big of a dent.”
After the results were revealed, Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which has made a push on addressing homelessness, said the jump is concerning, but not surprising.
“We are doing more than ever before, but the cost and limited availability of housing is a strong headwind,” Buik said in a prepared statement.
In a prepared statement state Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, whose 53rd District includes Downtown, called the increase “jaw dropping, unacceptable and no doubt the greatest challenge of our generation.”
The LAHSA report attributed some of the rise to economic factors outside of the county and the city’s control. It found that 721,000 people in L.A. County are “severely rent-burdened,” and that a renter would need to earn $47.52 per hour to afford an apartment priced at the median monthly rent of $2,471.
The local rise follows reports of homelessness spiking in counties across the state. San Francisco saw an increase of 17% over a one-year period, there was a 22% boost in Riverside County, and homelessness in Ventura County rose by 28%. In Orange County there was a 43% hike.
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called the issue a “height of contradiction” across the state.
“It is simply not golden for everyone,” Ridley-Thomas said in a prepared statement. “We are building a robust safety net in L.A. County, but we have to work upstream to address the economic inequities and lack of affordable housing that are becoming, far too often, the attributing factors to our fellow Angelenos falling into homelessness.”
First District Supervisor Hilda Solis also cited the lack of affordable housing. She cited statistics reported by the California Housing Partnership Corporation that found that Los Angeles has a shortage of 517,000 affordable housing units.
“This doesn’t add up,” Solis said in a statement. “People cannot afford their rent, much less put food on the table, purchase lifesaving prescription drugs, or buy other basic necessities.”
The worsening situation occurs despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to address the issue. In 2016, city voters approved Proposition HHH, a property tax bond to raise $1.2 billion to build permanent supportive housing. No units have yet opened; according to LAHSA, about 1,400 are expected to come online in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The following year, county voters passed Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax intended to raise about $350 million annually to provide services to those living on the streets. County leaders recently approved spending $460 million on homelessness in the upcoming fiscal year.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has sought to address the issue in a variety of ways, including the Bridge Home program. The initial aim was to open one project in all 15 council districts near where tent encampments have sprouted. The projects would provide beds and hygiene resources, and there would be on-site case workers. The centers would be accompanied by enhanced cleanups and police patrols in surrounding areas.
Yet progress has been slow. The first bridge housing project, a 45-bed facility dubbed El Puente, opened in Downtown near Olvera Street last September, and only two others have since debuted. Additionally, security costs have been higher than anticipated, with police patrols in nearby areas estimated to run about $1.13 million a year at each site.
Garcetti recognized the gravity of the situation.
“While we did better, it’s not good enough,” Garcetti said in a prepared statement. “That’s why we’re putting more resources than ever into meeting the urgency of the moment. We cannot let a set of difficult numbers discourage us, or weaken our resolve. And I know that, if we keep working together, believing in one another, and caring for people in desperate situations, we will end homelessness in this city.”
Updated on Tuesday, June 4, 4:17 p.m.
Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News