Number of Homeless People on Skid Row Spikes by 11%

LAHSA's January 2019 count found that the number of sheltered people on Skid Row declined, while the number of unsheltered people spiked by 23%.

In June, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported a sharp uptick in homelessness in the region, with a 16% increase in the county and a 12%, rise in the city. Now, to one’s surprise, LAHSA has also reported a boost in homelessness in Skid Row.

On July 29, LAHSA released its findings for communities across the region. Based on a three-night count conducted by volunteers in January, it found 4,757 homeless individuals in Skid Row, up 11% over the previous year.

That means the 50-block community accounts for approximately 13% of the 36,135 homeless individuals in city limits. The county has nearly 59,000 homeless people.

Along with the overall increase in the number of homeless individuals in Skid Row, the number of sheltered people decreased from 2,149 to 1,974. The number of unsheltered individuals spiked by 23%, from 2,145 to 2,783.

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The results reflect what Skid Row service providers have been noticing for months. Union Rescue Mission CEO Rev. Andy Bales said the shelter at 545 S. San Pedro St. recorded a record number of 1,279 homeless men, women and children one night last November. That was two months before the LAHSA count.

“We expected it. We expected even greater numbers,” Bales told Los Angeles Downtown News. “Just the numbers on the streets are more than ever. We’ve continued to operate at capacity or over capacity.”

According to the LAHSA count, the number of chronically homeless people, defined as those who have experienced homelessness for more than a year, rose 45% over the previous year, from 1,203 individuals to 1,787. John Maceri, CEO of the People Concern, which operates showers and restrooms on Skid Row, said that in recent months it has become increasingly difficult to get people off the streets and into temporary or permanent housing due to limited space and greater demand. As a result, he said, people end up homeless for longer periods.

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G. Michael Arnold, president and CEO of Skid Row’s Midnight Mission, called the spike in chronic homelessness the most worrying takeaway from the LAHSA count, in part because the city and county’s strategy to address homelessness has been centered on helping this particular population.

“The arguable logic behind that is if we get the most difficult to serve into appropriate housing, it frees up other resources for those with lesser degrees of needs,” Arnold said. “After enormous investments in focusing on chronically homeless people, that number going up should cause us all to step back and reexamine the strategy.”

LAHSA did not identify a principal cause for the increased numbers, but a severe shortage of affordable housing throughout the region is frequently cited.

The worsening situation on Skid Row is putting a strain on resources, as more people are in need of the services offered by providers. The City Council recently allocated $2.7 million in state Homeless Emergency Aid Program funds to hygiene and sanitation programs on Skid Row, but providers say that the results are limited.

“Housing of course is the top need, but second to that is access to showers and restrooms and basic hygiene,” Maceri said. “As you have more people on the streets, there’s a greater demand for what little is already there.”

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The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti is seeking to expand sanitation and hygiene services on Skid Row, according to Kirkpatrick Tyler, Garcetti’s director for Skid Row strategy. He pointed to the HEAP funds, and also said that two facilities, the Skid Row Community ReFresh Spot (which has toilets, showers and laundry machines) and The Bin (a storage facility where homeless people can safely keep their belongings), are moving to new, larger locations in the coming months.

Tyler also said the city is working to expand a pair of Skid Row restroom facilities known as “Pit Stops” so they can operate 24 hours a day. Additionally, he said the city is in the process of setting up temporary water fountains on Skid Row to provide access to clean drinking water during the summer heat.

The LAHSA community figures also revealed a rise in homeless families on Skid Row. According to the findings, there was a 22.2% increase in homeless family members last year, from 478 to 584. This continues a trend that has been seen in recent years. Bales said that in November the Union Rescue Mission one night counted 390 family members on the premises.

Another problem, said Bales, is safety. He mentioned that with more people living without shelter, and rising summer temperatures, mission staff have witnessed an increase in the number of assaults outside the building.

“Our guests are always vulnerable,” Bales said.

The city is seeking to build up to 1,200 permanent supportive housing units through funds from Proposition HHH, which voters approved in 2016. However, no apartments have yet come online, and the overall number of residences that will be created is in question as costs have soared to approximately $500,000 per unit.

Garcetti has also sought to create emergency shelters across Los Angeles through his A Bridge Home program, though only four have opened in the city, and just one, with 45 beds, is in Downtown Los Angeles. A second facility, geared toward women, will open at the Downtown Women’s Center on Tuesday, Aug. 13.

Service providers throughout Skid Row maintain that there is an urgent need for interim and bridge housing in the community. Bales said the Union Rescue Mission will open a large, tent-like structure for homeless women next month, but he called on the city and county to look at finding new approaches to sheltering people.

Maceri said conditions in Skid Row have been worsening for years, in part because rapid development has had a “squeezing effect” on the community. He called the situation in Skid Row untenable and unsustainable.

nicholas@downtownnews.com