Don’t Applaud the Dip in Homelessness Yet

DTLA - The temptation to celebrate the decrease in homelessness in Los Angeles is understandable. After all, the number of people sleeping on the streets in the region had grown for three consecutive years, with a tremendous spike last year. After a flood of bad news, people are desperate for something positive.

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While some progress is being made, the 3% decline in homelessness reported in the county in 2018, and the 5% drop in the city, is nowhere near enough. 

We comprehend the desire to applaud, but no one should celebrate right now. The county still claims 53,195 homeless people, just a smidgen below the 55,048 recorded in 2017, according to statistics released May 31 by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority. The city went from 34,189 homeless people in 2017 to 31,516 this year.

Applause? Celebration? This is like applauding a straight-F student who, for one semester, ekes his way up to a D-minus average. There are no accolades yet.

We’re not saying progress is unimportant, and we urge a continuation of the full-bore response to homelessness that city and county elected officials, and people throughout the business and nonprofit worlds, have undertaken in recent years. That work is impressive, as is the willingness of area residents to tax themselves to address the humanitarian crisis. 

But baby steps are insufficient, especially when you recognize that in 2015 the count found 44,359 homeless people in the county, and 25,686 in the city. We’d like to see figures that approach the numbers of three years ago before there is any patting on the back.

On the bright side, the ground work for potential future success is being laid: City and county officials are coordinating on the issue better than at any time in the past, with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, respectively, leading the public charge. Additionally, no one pretends any longer that this is just a matter for Downtown Los Angeles, Venice and a few other communities. The proliferation of tent encampments has spurred the entire region to action.

The work done to date is only the beginning of what must occur if thousands of chronically homeless people are to be moved into permanent housing, and if steps can be taken to prevent those at risk of becoming homeless from ending up on the streets in the first place. Dig into the LAHSA numbers and the challenges remain daunting: There are rising numbers of homeless women and families. The number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time is climbing.

What is particularly needed right now is political courage. Elected officials must push for the creation of affordable housing and homeless services in all communities, and must convince neighborhood opponents that NIMBY sentiments don’t help and won’t work. Taking the kind of flack this will engender won’t be easy, but it is necessary.

Get real services and support into communities across the county, and then we might start to see a meaningful decrease in the number of people on the streets. Only then can Los Angeles truly applaud.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2018