LA County’s homeless population growth slows amid pandemic

The growth of the homeless population in Los Angeles County has slowed over the past two years, in part due to policies put in place by the pandemic, according to the results of the recently released homeless count.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which coordinates the annual count for most of the county, found the area’s homeless population increased 4.1% from 66,436 in 2020 to 69,144 in 2022. The percentage of people living indoors in shelters has increased from 28% to 30%.

The city of Los Angeles saw its homeless population increase by 1.7%, from 41,290 to 41,980 for the same period.

The results released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on Thursday contrast with previous years when the area’s homeless population exploded in size, increasing 25% between 2018 and 2020.

The results – which are a statistical estimate – come at a crucial time in an area where homelessness and housing affordability have become pressing issues, particularly in Los Angeles, where voters will soon elect a new mayor.

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority officials attributed slowing growth of the homeless population to policies enacted during the pandemic, such as federal and state unemployment assistance, rent and eviction moratoriums, utility assistance programs, and increased employment capacity. accommodation in the region, which allowed them to house people permanently.

“We are in a precarious moment,” said Molly Rysman, LAHSA’s interim co-executive director. during a briefing with journalists before the figures were released. “Many of the policies and investments that have prevented COVID driving more households into homelessness has or will soon end, we need to learn from these policies and investments and sustain them.

David Smith, director of litigation at the Inner Law Center, a nonprofit law firm based in a row of slip-ups, echoed that sentiment and said the numbers underscore the need for elected officials to keep law enforcement in place. moratoriums that prevent landlords from evicting tenants or raising rents in rent-controlled units.

“They definitely helped,” Smith said. “But they are band-aids at best and they come off soon and I think it is absolutely necessary that these kinds of protections be made permanent in some way to avoid an avalanche of evictions.

Smith said he’s already seeing a high number of eviction cases despite protections, with landlords often hoping uninformed tenants won’t challenge them in court. He said city officials also need to crack down on sleepy landlords who allow buildings to deteriorate in order to ward off rent control tenants for market-rate tenants.

“There are a lot of different factors at play and a lot of different headwinds to deal with, so hopefully people won’t be comforted by a downward trend from those numbers.”

The changes were not evenly distributed throughout the county. The largest increases were recorded in the Port area (18%) and South Los Angeles (12%), while a 23% decrease was recorded in the Westside. The LA metro area, where the most homeless people were, saw a 4% increase to just under 18,000.

The numbers also show the racial inequality of homelessness in the county. Blacks continue to be disproportionately represented while whites and Latinos are slightly below the represented population.

LAHSA officials said the number of homeless veterans has declined, but there have been increases in other subgroups, including women and the elderly.

Until now, it was unclear what impact the pandemic was having on the county’s homeless crisis. It was feared that the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus could make the problem worse by sending a new wave of people homeless.

Cheri Todoroff, executive director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, saw the leveling trend as the effect of tenant protections enacted during the pandemic that helped vulnerable people retain their homes.

“This is ultimately how we are going to change the face of homelessness in our county. If we could stop the influx of homelessness,” said Todoroff, who heads the county office that guides the use of Measure H homelessness sales tax revenue.

Those gains could be at risk as pandemic-related protections are lifted, she said.

LAHSA officials said that answer to the The pandemic has helped increase accommodation capacity in the county by 62%, from 15,617 beds in 2019 to 25,263 in 2022.

Still, officials said more needed to be done. The city must continue to address the policies that have contributed to the region’s homelessness crisis, including the lack of affordable housing and inadequate support for people coming out of prisons, foster homes and the military. The Greater Los Angeles area will also need about 800,000 homes over eight years to keep people from becoming homeless.

Although Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority officials said the pandemic is making it difficult to count homeless youth and families — about 10% of the homeless count — they say that in the short term, the numbers point to a possible flattening of the curve.

The “one-time” homeless count initially takes place in January, but this year it took place in February due to a winter surge caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Volunteers spread across the county over several nights to document the visible signs of homelessness. The survey helps the county determine where to distribute resources to homeless people and allocate millions of dollars in state and federal funding.

The last count was in 2020, before the pandemic forced LAHSA officials to undo last year’s count.

The slowing rate of increase was a relief to those bracing for much worse.

“No one wants to see the number of homeless increase by even a single percentage point, but given what we have been through, today’s announcement clearly shows that we have avoided a great disaster,” LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “Instead, through intentional and impactful local investment, as well as significant state and federal investment, we have been able to be flexible and innovative, significantly expanding our capacity for permanent home and accommodation. .”

Anticipation of a larger increase may have been fueled by a phenomenon that emerged in the demographic survey accompanying this year’s tally: tents, makeshift shelters and vehicles increased more than people live there.

The count documented a 17% increase in the number of such shelters. The follow-up demographic survey of thousands of homeless people found that fewer people were living in each of them.

“So how do we explain this?” asked Kristina Dixon, acting co-executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority during the briefing.

A major cause was the restriction of cleanings in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on not disturbing encampments during the pandemic.

“Without the cleanings, the number of tents increased,” Dixon said. “In the meantime, our accommodation options have increased, as have our efforts to bring people there. As a result, more people moved inside and some left tents behind.

Dixon said more than 21,000 people had been housed, continuing a trend that has seen 86,000 people brought back inside since 2018.

“If the greater Los Angeles area could stop people from falling into homelessness, we could end homelessness in three to four years,” she said.

Los Angeles Times

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