Angelenos are well aware of the increase in individuals experiencing homelessness in the city and county; many comment that the increase is not only evident in percentages on paper, but also simply by walking outside. And they would be correct. Los Angeles is home to the greatest number of individuals experiencing homelessness than anywhere else in the country, and it has increased by 42% from 2010 to 2017, and 75% over the past six years. The epidemic is noticeable across the city on many sidewalks and open spaces that were not previously utilized by the homeless from the beach to West Hollywood to the Valley.
While the 2018 homelessness count indicated that there may be some decrease in homelessness for the first year, many argue that the count – a manual one over the course of three days in January every year – is not a sophisticated enough measure to identify fine changes. Moreover, certain populations that experienced homelessness continue to increase alarmingly including the number of senior citizens experiencing homelessness.
Experts cite a number of factors that contribute to this crisis – from the crack epidemic in the 90’s, the decrease in County welfare payments, the City’s land-use policies that reduced the availability of low income housing, hospital dumping, the battle of responsibility between County and City, to the increasing rent prices, stagnant median income, and the inability and disinterest of millennials to shift out of the rental market and into the owner market.
On a more positive note, Los Angeles does seem to be making progress in addressing veteran homelessness, and its citizens continue to vote to tax themselves in support of this effort with the passing of Proposition HHH and Measure H – green lighting an estimated 1.5 billion dollars. Ironically, hundreds of veterans now have vouchers for housing because of the funding, and yet no place to turn them in because of the unavailability of housing.
The City and County continue to take steps to address the need, although some would argue too slowly and with too much bureaucratic tape. Policies have been changed to decriminalize homelessness and City properties are being converted into temporary encampments or semi-permanent shelters and service points. Most critically, the position on homelessness has changed to a housing-first approach – acknowledging that preconditions to housing, such a requisite period of time of sobriety, may hamper or slow the process of getting an individual into permanent house. If anything, housing-first might be the best way to ensure an individual or family receives the other wrap around services they need. Many say you can’t help an individual experiencing homelessness who is also struggling with drug addiction or mental illness if you can’t find them. A permanent shelter can help to solve this.
Additional information on statistics of individuals experiencing homelessness can be found through the Neighborhood Data for Social Change Platform, a free, publicly-available resource for civic actors to learn about their neighborhoods and made available through the USC Price Center for Social Innovation. Information on what Los Angeles County, City, and Mayor are doing to address the homelessness crisis can be found through the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the lead agency and regional planning body that coordinates housing and services for homeless families and individuals in Los Angeles County.
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