DTLA—The situation on the streets of Skid Row is getting worse, precisely when it should be improving. That reality prompts a difficult question: Do people, including elected officials, have the appropriate sense of urgency regarding the humanitarian crisis and the public health emergency that is spreading across the streets of Downtown Los Angeles?
Sadly, the urgency appears to be lacking.
We’re not saying that people don’t care about homelessness. They do. Voters have twice passed measures to tax themselves to help those on the streets. Angry demands for action were heard in early June when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that there had been a 16% increase in homelessness in the city in a one-year period, and a 12% rise in L.A. County. Everyone is frustrated by the spread of tent encampments.
But since that LAHSA report came out, attention has waned. Many people have more or less accepted the numbers and turned their focus elsewhere.
On July 29, LAHSA detailed homelessness counts in specific communities, including Skid Row. The results should spark a new wave of anger, along with louder-than-ever calls for an immediate, radical, top-down response.
The Skid Row report reveals a litany of alarming facts and data points. These include: the number of homeless individuals in the impoverished community spiked 11% in a year to 4,757; the number of unsheltered people surged from 2,145 to 2,783; the number of homeless veterans in Skid Row grew 35% to 471; the count of homeless children under 18 rose 20%, from 309 to 370 (with 83 unsheltered).
Then there’s a figure that seems to speak directly to the shortcomings of the regional response: The number of chronically homeless individuals, the term for people who have been on the streets for more than a year, is also spiking. In 2018 LAHSA counted 1,229 chronically homeless people in Skid Row, including 955 living unsheltered. The 2019 tally puts the total figure at 1,797, with 1,424 unsheltered.
As G. Michael Arnold, president and CEO of the Midnight Mission, said in a recent Downtown News article, this is particularly troubling because much of the city and county’s efforts on the issue have focused on getting chronically homeless people off the streets. This should be where progress is being made, not where numbers have soared by nearly 50%.
Homelessness is a travesty everywhere, but nowhere in L.A. are conditions worse than they are in Skid Row. In addition to the filth, the tent fires and the cases of typhus, there are the drug dealers who prey on the addicts residing in the neighborhood. The many people who want to escape Skid Row can find it nearly impossible to do so.
We don’t doubt the intentions of those who handle the purse strings when it comes to addressing homelessness, but the LAHSA community report screams for an immediate need to pivot on the approach when it comes to this neighborhood. The people of Skid Row deserve better.
Los Angeles needs to operate with a new sense of urgency.
Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News