As people living in tents, RVs and makeshift shelters become a fact of life in neighborhoods far and wide, homelessness is now an all-consuming issue in Los Angeles County, with 95% of voters calling it a serious or very serious problem, according to a new poll.
The poll was conducted for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Business Council Institute. The near-unanimous opinion that homelessness ranks as a top concern marks a sharp change from earlier surveys of Los Angeles voters over the past dozen years, said Fred Yang of Hart Research, the Washington, D.C., polling firm that conducted the survey, according to The Times.
Only traffic congestion and housing affordability — at 88% and 85%, respectively — came close to rivaling the near universal concern over homelessness.
“It’s all over L.A.,” said Justine Marine, a student who participated in a focus group tied to the countywide poll. “You can be in a good neighborhood, and it could be right around the corner. You can’t escape it.”
Respondents were, at various times, angry, frustrated and overwhelmed by the growing homelessness crisis, The Times reported.
The poll of 901 registered voters found widespread empathy for homeless people. It also revealed conflicting opinions on what should be done about those who sleep on the streets and about what government’s role should be at taxpayers’ expense.
In answering one question, 49% said homelessness is “primarily” the result of a lack of affordable housing and wages that aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. By contrast, 26% said homelessness was “primarily” a result of “individual actions and decisions.”
In response to another question, 90% said they agreed that mental illness and substance abuse are among the underlying causes of homelessness and that government should expand treatment facilities to help. Just 6% disagreed with that view.
Three-quarters of L.A. County voters support adopting a law, similar to one in New York and some other states, that would require the government to “provide temporary shelter to any homeless person who wishes to come indoors.”
Roughly a third say they have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity, or know someone who has. That rises to 54% among black respondents, who are disproportionately represented in the county’s homeless population.
Homelessness increased by 12% in Los Angeles County this year to just shy of 59,000 people, while in the city of Los Angeles, the number soared to more than 36,000 for a 16% increase. As in past years, most — about 75% — were living outside.
“We’re all one circumstance away from being there,” said Andrea Kidd, a poll participant.