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Homeless numbers increase 5.7 percent, but homeless veterans drop

LOS ANGELES — The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County increased 5.7 percent over the past year to reach 46,874, according to results of the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count that were released May 4.

The figure is up from 44,359 in 2015, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The vast majority of the county’s homeless — 34,527 people — are unsheltered, up from 31,025 in 2015.

Despite the overall increase, homelessness among veterans dropped by 30 percent across the county, from 4,362 in 2015 to 3,071 this year. In the city of Los Angeles, the number of homeless veterans fell to 1,617, down from 2,733 last year. Family homelessness throughout the county fell by 18 percent over the past year.

The decrease in the homeless veteran and family population “reinforces the importance of resources and [a] collaborative system to deliver them,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the county homeless authority.

“Homelessness responds to resources,” he said. “When we have systemically applied city, county and federal resources, we see results.”

The city of Los Angeles overall saw an 11 percent jump in the number homeless people, to 28,464, representing 65 percent of the county total, according to the count. Of the city’s homeless, 21,338 are unsheltered. The San Fernando Valley saw a 35.2 percent increase, while the San Gabriel Valley had a 15.7 percent decrease.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he has proposed $138 million in the city’s budget for the coming year to affordable housing and homeless services, and noted that the city housed more people last year than any other city in the country.

“Despite our progress, Los Angeles is facing a historic housing shortage, a staggering mental health crisis and veterans are becoming homeless every day,” Garcetti said. “As a city, we have launched efforts to tackle these issues, securing record federal investments in supportive services for veteran families, producing a comprehensive homelessness strategy report and expanding a robust winter shelter program. This year, we are doubling down on our work.”

While county and city officials pointed to the success of targeted efforts on homeless veterans and families, others said the count’s results also show that solutions will likely not come soon enough.

Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles staff attorney Shayla Myers said recent plans adopted by the city and county to tackle homelessness won’t address the challenges faced by the homeless counted in the survey.

“Everyone agrees the City Council plan and the county plan — these are long-term,” Myers said. But the latest count, as in past years, shows “that there are thousands of people who are homeless and on the streets of Los Angeles every night. They are compelled to live on the street every night.”

Myers and other attorneys recently secured a court injunction that prevents Los Angeles police and sanitation officers from seizing and destroying homeless people’s property without sufficient notice, and requires that the city segregate and store impounded belongings where they can be recovered.

She said the city has not come up with immediate solutions that prevent homeless individuals from being criminalized, but instead plans to implement 56.11, an ordinance that would allow the city to cite homeless encampments set up during the day.

“Where are individuals who are on the street — where are they supposed to go?” Myers said. “That’s what those numbers say to me.”

Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Skid Row, said the new numbers are a reminder that homelessness is a persistent problem.

“This year’s budget is a good start at funding our homeless strategy report priorities, and I am hopeful that there will be a measure on this November’s ballot to raise an ongoing source of new revenue to finally address this issue like the urgent humanitarian crisis that it is,” Huizar said.

Huizar’s district had a homeless population of 5,590, which is down 11 percent from last year.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the Venice area, said the “results are both disturbing and unsurprising.”

The results, which shows Bonin’s district has 2,529 homeless people, were predictable because many of the strategies for tackling homelessness being discussed by the council haven’t “kicked in yet,” he said. But the results also show “rapid rehousing” strategies — offering financial assistance for housing and other services to veterans and families who are homeless — have yielded results, he said.

“The significant drop in family and veteran homelessness is telling and underscores the type of strategic decisions we made and the investments we’re making are the right ones,” Bonin said.

He said he hopes the results put “fuel into the fire” on pending city measures aimed at increasing housing for the homeless, “because we cannot get affordable or homeless housing built quickly enough.”

Measures to tackle homelessness are being discussed by the City Council and include a linkage fee on development projects to raise money for affordable housing, policies to allow the construction of micro units and the fast-tracking of affordable housing projects.

South Los Angeles also had high numbers of homeless individuals, with 3,458 people in the Ninth Council District, an increase of 44 percent in the last year.

The Eighth and 10th Council Districts saw the number of homeless decline. The drop was nine percent on District 8 and 18 percent in District 10

“With the results from the 2016 homeless count being released, it is clear that without concerted effort and a new revenue stream, the number of people falling into homelessness will continue to grow,” Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said.