With local elections coming up in June and November of this year, a coalition of civic leaders released the results of a focus group study Thursday that found that Los Angeles County voters have a complete lack of faith in the city and county of L.A. to address the homelessness crisis.
“There is an absolute, total, complete, without exception, lack of faith in city and county government to address homelessness,” said public policy consultant Darry Sragow during a briefing of the focus group by the Committee for Greater L.A. Wednesday.
“In all the years that I’ve watched focus groups or conducted focus groups — it’s in the hundreds, been doing this for decades — never have I seen this kind of consistency in focus group results.”
The Committee for Greater L.A. conducted six focus groups with 39 people between Dec. 13 and 16 in Encino, Pasadena and the Westside of Los Angeles. It found that homelessness is L.A. County voters’ most important issue.
“I’ve been here 35 years, and the past five years, the degradation of life in LA is exponential and I don’t see an end. The politicians are dufuses,” said a white male voter participating in the focus group, according to Committee for Greater L.A.
The group found that Los Angeles-area voters encounter unhoused people throughout their daily life, Sragow said during a briefing Thursday on the results of the focus groups.
“When you go to the store, when your kids go to school, when you go to work, when you go to take a walk. Whatever. Homelessness is essentially everywhere, and to say that voters are frustrated by the problem is a gross understatement, but it’s important to understand what frustrates them and what their expectations are,” he added.
The focus groups also revealed voters’ impressions of the unhoused population in Los Angeles, believing that the homeless population consists of four groups of people: those with serious mental illnesses, those with addiction issues, those who can work but prefer to live outside and people who have fallen on hard times due to the economy.
The Committee for Greater L.A. also found that voters expressed empathy for the unhoused population, along with fear of them and “disgust” toward encampments, Sragow said.
“I run into one or two every day, and I wonder, ‘This is someone’s son. Did he refuse help?’ How can you help them? We’re failing them,” a Latino voter said in a focus group, according to the Committee for Greater L.A.
Voters in the focus groups also were opposed to more taxes to solve the issue, with people noting that they haven’t felt any progress in the homelessness crisis following measures like Proposition HHH.
“They frankly think the money is winding up in people’s pockets,” Sragow said, noting that participants were aware of some Los Angeles elected officials being convicted and indicted in corruption scandals.
Focus group participants were receptive to the idea of a independent organization, without elected officials, being convened to address the crisis, along with a realistic plan with goals that can be measured.
“They don’t expect that homelessness is going to be eradicated all together, they just don’t. But they want to see substantial progress,” Sragow said.
Sragow’s advice to people running for elected office in the L.A. area is to “take to heart” voters’ opinions about the crisis.
“This is a situation in which we’ve heard over and over again that voters are sophisticated about this, they understand what’s going on, they’re empathetic, but they are tired of being fearful, they’re tired of being disgusted, they’re tired of their elected officials not solving the problem.”
Peter Laugharn, president of the Conrad Hilton Foundation, advocated for officials to focus on permanent housing and supportive services to solve the issue, saying “we know what works,” but noted that coordination and accountability needs to be improved in order for progress to be made.