After a big spike last year, the city and county of Los Angeles have seen modest decreases in the number of homeless people in 2018, according to the results of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count released Thursday.
The number of homeless in the county fell by 3 percent to 53,195, and by 5 percent in the city of Los Angeles to 31,516.
The count was conducted over several nights in January by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority along with over 8,500 volunteers.
“The numbers are promising in the fact that there are significant reductions in homelessness among veterans and the chronically homeless,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes the northern San Gabriel Valley, Burbank, Glendale and parts of the San Fernando Valley. “In my district, there is an estimated 25 percent decrease overall — much of this can be attributed to increases in housing placements and an uptick in the coordination between county agencies and community-based providers.”
LAHSA reported last year that the number of homeless in Los Angeles rose by 20 percent to 34,189 and increased by 23 percent in the county to 57,794, although LAHSA recently said the numbers in the county were inflated by 2,746.
LAHSA is in charge of the count for what is called the Los Angeles Continuum of Care for the entire county except for Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach, which conduct their own counts. But the overall numbers released by LAHSA includes the results from those three cities.
Despite the decreases, LAHSA and other officials pointed out that not all of the news was positive. The numbers show a rise in the number of people entering homelessness for the first time, which LAHSA said is a sign the affordable housing crisis is worsening. More than a quarter of the 9,322 unsheltered people in the LACoC had fallen into homelessness for the first time in 2017, an increase of 1,278 over the previous year.
Since the release of last year’s count, city and county officials have passed numerous initiatives aimed at combating the problem of homelessness, but few top officials were predicting the number of homeless had decreased before the numbers from 2018 were released.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had said previously he did not expect the number to be reduced in any significant way, although he said he did believe that an impact would begin to be made throughout this current year as several major programs to fight homelessness are being fully implemented
“Voters put their trust in us to deliver housing and services for people living on our streets, and today we see that our efforts are yielding results,” Garcetti said after the 2018 numbers were released. “There are thousands of people counting on us to keep going, so we are pressing relentlessly forward until every Angeleno has a safe place to sleep at night.”
The initiatives include Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure approved by city voters to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless, although no units have been completed yet. Another program is Measure H, a sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2017 expected to raise $355 million annually for homeless programs, and the city’s plan to spend at least $20 million for temporary homeless shelters.
Gov. Jerry Brown also has proposed dedicating $359 million in budget surplus money this coming fiscal year for homeless programs, but Garcetti and some other leaders want at least $1.5 billion set aside.
If the funding is approved, nearly 52,000 Angelenos would receive housing and services over a three-year period. Garcetti’s office said.
“While the reduction in our homeless population in the city and county of Los Angeles is modest at best, we are — at last — headed in the right direction,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Skid Row where an estimated 2,000 homeless people are located. “We need to continue pushing forward with our strategic plan and build the housing the voters mandated that we produce. And we need our governor and state electeds to match ours and the county’s efforts and help us get people off the streets and into emergency and long-term housing and services as quickly as possible.”
Michael Weinstein, CEO of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has been critical of Los Angeles’ policies on the homeless and said he believed the count numbers were “not credible,” although he only offered anecdotal evidence.
“What makes this count not credible is what we see with our own eyes every single day, and when you go to Skid Row, go to Venice, go to Hollywood, go to other parts of downtown, almost anywhere you go, you see more and more and more people on the street, so it’s very hard for us to believe that this is an accurate count,” Weinstein said.
The count found double digit drops in chronic homelessness and veteran homelessness. Chronically homeless — defined as people who have a disabling condition and have experienced homelessness for at least a year — decreased from 17,204 in 2017 to 14,389, for a reduction of 16 percent. The number of homeless veterans was reduced from 4,792 to 3,910, for a drop of 18 percent.
LAHSA also reported a record number of housing placements.
In 2017, 16,519 homeless people moved into homes in the LACoC, up from 14,214 in 2016 and 10,917 in 2015.