Los Angeles Sees Dramatic Jump in Homeless Population

This March 10 photo shows tents and people in the downtown neighborhood referred to as Skid Row in the city of Los Angeles. (Courthouse News photo/Nathan Solis)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — More than 66,000 people in Los Angeles County were homeless at the start of this year according to a report released Friday, the results not including any of the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is nothing short of tragic,” said LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn in a statement. “We may be moving more people off the street, but we are nowhere close to meeting the massive scale of this problem. I am frustrated and I am worried about how many more people could fall into homelessness in the wake of this pandemic. I think it is time we rethink our strategies because the direction we are going is unacceptable.”

The report highlights another year that marks a dramatic upward trend in the homeless population with a 12.7% increase for the county and 14.2% increase for the city.

Seniors 62 and older saw a 20% increase in homelessness, but 1,900 were housed during the Covid-19 initiatives. Young adults aged 18-24 jumped 19% when compared to last year, rising from nearly 4,000 to 4,600. Veterans saw a slight increase of 0.6%, while families experiencing homelessness together jumped dramatically at nearly 46%.

This year the city of LA saw 41,000 people who were homeless, up from 36,000 last year, while the county saw 66,000 this year, jumping from nearly 59,000 last year.

Construction on affordable housing units have been slow and fallen short of projected goals promised by county officials. Roughly 700 supportive housing units opened in 2019 and an additional 2,300 will open in the next year according to the report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

LA County says 88% of people who were housed in 2018 did not return to the streets last year, but the rate of homelessness still outpaces any efforts made to house the growing population.

“LAHSA does not like these numbers because we know first-hand that we have done so much to increase the effectiveness of our systems and bring tens of thousands of people inside,” said LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston. “This year’s results reinforce that our community must address the deep-rooted causes within larger safety net systems that stop people from falling into homelessness.”

The push and pull of the economy and a systemic racism are also present in the data, according to the LAHSA report.

Black people are four times more represented in the homeless population when compared to their overall demographic across the county and two-thirds of all homeless adults were on the street for the first time last year, with 59% who said it was due to economic hardship.

The field reporting from the report was done in January 2020 ahead of any economic fallout from Covid-19. Since then, state and local officials scrambled to rapidly house vulnerable homeless people living on the street to stanch the spread of the virus by placing them in individual hotel and motel rooms across the county.

According to LAHSA, 6,000 people were housed during this time, with 4,000 who were placed through the Project Roomkey that placed people into those leased hotel rooms and 1,900 were placed in large shelter spaces and trailers.

The county said it would aim to move 15,000 people into housing during the pandemic and efforts are being made to purchase hotels after Project Roomkey ends.

Twice as many people are being placed into permanent housing in the last year when compared to data from 2015 according to the LAHSA report. Outreach, prevention and other services have all increased, but still the rate of homelessness continues to outpace those efforts.

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said for every 207 people the county houses, 227 people become homeless every day.

“Our challenge is unique in LA County. In any other region, these numbers would have ended homelessness. But with COVID-19, rising unemployment, and a depressed economy, things will likely get worse before they get better,” said Ridley-Thomas.

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