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County homeless population increases by 23 percent

LOS ANGELES — The homeless population in Los Angeles County has increased 23 percent in the last year, according to figures released last week by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). The findings show that despite efforts such as rent subsidies and outreach, the homeless rate is growing at a faster pace.

The city of Los Angeles did slightly better than L.A. County, with an increase of 20 percent.

“The results of LAHSA’s Homeless Count are not a surprise to Angelenos, who have seen the number of unsheltered people in their neighborhoods grow before their eyes,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

“We still face a historic shortage of affordable housing, a staggering mental health crisis, insufficient support for veterans and foster youth, and inadequate resources to help formerly incarcerated Angelenos turn their lives around.”

In January, thousands of volunteers went all over Los Angeles County and counted almost 58,000 homeless people. The count assesses the number of both unsheltered and sheltered residents, excluding the cities of Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach, which conduct their own count.

“No hand-wringing, no fretting, no ‘woe is me’ — it’s just simply time to roll up our sleeves and do what we know needs to be done,” said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas in a press conference organized by the LAHSA.

The increase comes despite two big measures passed recently.

Last November, city voters approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure paying for the construction of affordable housing for homeless residents.

County voters approved Measure H in March. It will provide an estimated $355 million annually for rent subsidies and programs to combat homelessness through a sales tax increase that take effect July 1.

“These latest homeless count numbers only add to the importance of the work we will do in the next few months spending the Measure H funds,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement.

On June 13, the county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on budgets for the first three years.

According to the report, the jump in homelessness was seen in every demographic group including youth, veterans, families and the chronically homeless. Individuals not in family units had a staggering 85 percent increase.

A homeless person cleans up around his tent in downtown’s Skid Row. The homeless population increased 20 percent in the last year in the city of Los Angeles.
(Photo by Dennis J. Freeman)

Los Angeles City Council District 8 had a 45 percent increase. The area saw a huge increase in transition age youth (18-24) demographic soaring 145 percent. Veterans were second with a 79 percent increase.

City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson blamed the increase on exploding rent prices. He said the city needs to fund affordable housing and make sure Measure HHH is “aggressively” implemented.

“Far too many of our people live on the brink, spending huge portions of their incomes on rent.” Harris-Dawson said. “African-Americans, Latinos and working people in general are falling into homelessness at record paces.”

When it comes to transition-aged boys, Harris-Dawson said he realizes they continue to struggle. He believes more housing focused on that demographic is needed.

“In my district, for example, the Epworth Apartment is a beautiful apartment complex, who successfully serve transition-aged youth and sets our youth up for life-long success,” he added.

Council District 9 saw an 11 percent increase in the homeless. They had a similar increase with transition age youth, a whopping 211 percent jump, and a 103 percent increase in the veteran population.

Council District 10 had a 36 percent increase, with the biggest increase in the transgender community up 900 percent.

District 9 Councilman Curren Price Jr. has worked with the LAHSA and the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care Systems (HOPICS) to create teams that provide outreach.

There is a homeless youth drop-in center that is managed by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD). Additionally, the district has hired caseworkers as part of a program called “Project Save.” Part of their duties is to assist at-risk youth.

Most recently, District 9 implemented a safe-parking program, which will be managed by HOPICS. In addition, the district has partnered with a nonprofit called Lava Mae, which is providing mobile showers for people experiencing homelessness.

The County of Los Angeles Public Health Department divides the county into eight areas to better develop services to target issues in different neighborhoods. These areas also get assessed.

Service Planning Area 4 (Metro L.A.) saw a 30 percent increase in homelessness. Veterans in family units went up 300 percent.

Service Planning Area 6 (South L.A.) had a 24 percent increase. The biggest increase was in the Asian population, jumping 338 percent.

Service Planning Area 7 (Southeast L.A. County) had a 50 percent increase. It had a staggering 667 percent increase in head of household transition age group.

Service Planning Area 8 (South Bay) saw a 17 percent increase. Unaccompanied minors increased a whopping 1,333 percent.

Despite the findings, some still have hope for the future.

“I am not at all discouraged by this [homeless count),” Ridley-Thomas added. “Many of us sensed that there was an uptick, and these numbers validate that. The good news is that we have the capacity, for the first time, to stand up to it.”