By Nathan Solis and Martin Macias Jr
LOS ANGELES (CN) – The homeless population is growing faster than the rate people can be housed, according to the sobering point-in-time county report released Tuesday by Los Angeles County officials.
The homeless population grew by 12% with 59,000 people living on the street in the county and by 16% in the city of LA with 36,300 people unsheltered.
Young adults ages 18-24 years old saw the biggest jump with a 24% increase from the 2017 count, and a 17% increase in the number of people living in tents and makeshift shelters.
The findings are the result of an annual count done this past January by trained outreach experts who interviewed homeless persons living in cars, makeshift shelters or tents.
Despite 21,631 people being placed into homes and 92% of those placed in permanent housing in the last two years remaining in their homes, the influx of people falling into homelessness continued to increase, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
The count also found black Angelenos are represented four times more than any other demographic.
Officials presented their data at the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, and it drew jeers and groans from the audience.
“This is a dynamic story,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the authority. “People are lifted out of homelessness on a daily basis.”
But while roughly 130 people are lifted out homelessness by assistance, about 150 people fall into homelessness daily.
Supervisor Janice Hahn called the report very troubling and very sad.
“We can see it in our neighborhoods, on our sidewalks and even outside of this building. From your report, that’s exactly what you’ve told us,” said Hahn to the homeless authority officials.
“We live and die by this homeless count,” she added later.
“You do!?” Someone shouted from the audience.
A week before the report was released, Joey Frei from the nonprofit organization Lava Mae met with a steady group of homeless people outside Los Angeles City Hall. The group hands out hygiene kits and provides 35-45 showers a day across the city and county using a mobile shower unit.
“I could have one on every corner and it might be enough,” said Frei. “We do what we can with what we have.”
Wages in Los Angeles have not kept pace with rent costs and a third of households – about 721,000 – spend more than half of their income on rent, according to Lynn. The county has the highest poverty rate in the state, Lynn said.
Already one of the least affordable housing markets in the nation, LA is short about 517,000 affordable housing units for low-income renters according to Lynn.
The figures released Tuesday spurred calls for officials to build low-income housing and enact emergency measures to keep struggling residents in their homes.
In an interview, Pete White, director of anti-poverty group LA Community Action Network, said the city should invest at least $10 million to fund public legal aid and emergency payments to help struggling renters.
“We know the root of houselessness is no longer that everyone is drug addict or that they didn’t try hard enough,” White said. “[City officials] have finally come out and said the root cause is housing availability and poverty.”
The desire to see officials focus on housing affordability was echoed in a statement Monday by Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless.
“We are not just in a homelessness crisis, but an affordability crisis. LA’s recent homeless count is indicative of this,” Roberts said. “As rent continues to increase and wages remain stagnant, the potential for individuals to fall into homelessness increases.”
Roberts’ organization was recently selected as the operator of a planned shelter in Venice, California.
The 154-bed temporary shelter is part of the city’s A Bridge Home program, which plans to install temporary shelters in each of the city’s 15 council districts. So far just a handful of shelter spaces have opened due to pushback from residents and at least one lawsuit against the city.
Los Angeles County aims build 10,000 housing units through tax-funded efforts over the next decade.