L.A.'s Distressing, Stunning Homelessness Crisis

DTLA—The release last week of the latest Homeless Count gives Los Angeles an undeniable look-in-the-mirror moment. As people across the region collectively process the anger and frustration, we have no choice but to take stock of the reflection staring back and ask what have we done, what have we not done, and what can be done to change the status quo?

Now is the time for elected officials to lead like never before, particularly at the City Council level. They’ll need backbone to face down constituents who fight a project in their area. It’s time to go to the mat.

Homeless Soars in City, County and Downtown

Whatever the Council can do — and it had better be a lot — that action does not absolve other government leaders. Our representatives at the city, county, state and federal levels must operate with urgency, recognizing that homelessness is the single greatest moral and physical challenge facing Los Angeles. They must set policy and make decisions to help those on the streets and prevent others from winding up on the streets. This is a crisis for the housed and unhoused.

The 12% rise in homelessness in the county reported by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and the 16% increase in the city, is unacceptable. Unless everyone in the region works together on this issue, we will not make sufficient progress.

While the “everyone-in” idea sounds like a cliché, it’s not. Each person in L.A. County can do something to help, even if that something is as simple as no longer saying no to a proposed homeless shelter or service facility in his or her neighborhood. If that low bar has already been cleared, then maybe the next step is to speak up and help convince NIMBY-minded neighbors to say yes to a permanent supportive housing project or something else.

The count, which involved three nights of tallying in January and then using statistical models, found 58,936 homeless individuals in the county, up more than 6,000 from the previous year. The city now has 36,300 homeless people, an increase of more than 5,000 people. According to LAHSA, there was a 17% rise in people experiencing homelessness for the first time in the past year.

Nowhere is the situation more dire than in the 14th District, which includes Downtown Los Angeles. Here nearly 8,000 people live on the streets, many of them in rat-ridden, stomach-turning filth.

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What the region needs is more — more of everything, in every neighborhood. We can’t have entire council districts opt not to identify even a single parcel for an emergency transitional shelter. Communities where numerous people live in their vehicles could hold a safe parking zone with toilets and other services. A neighborhood filled with tent encampments should probably have a storage facility.

Despite the shock of these numbers, it’s false to charge that nothing has been done. In 2018 an estimated 21,000 people were moved off the streets. However, the homeless population still grew, a situation propelled by myriad factors, including economic conditions and a housing shortage.

Los Angeles will not soon escape this crisis, and generations in the future will judge us by how we respond to this moment. Addressing homelessness is everyone’s concern.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News