We were surprised when previous years' homeless numbers for Los Angeles didn't match up to our sense of how hard the Great Recession had hit the ultra-poor. After all, thousands of Southern California families lost their homes during the foreclosure days of 2007 and beyond.
Where'd they all go?
It turns out that homeless numbers might be lagging behind the economic recovery experienced by the wealthier end of Los Angeles.
Indeed, despite gentrification and booming times in Venice, Echo Park, West L.A., and, most especially, downtown, the number of homeless people on the streets has increased, according to the latest Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Los Angeles Homeless Count.
The big data here is that the number of tents, makeshift shelters and vehicles counted by LAHSA increased a whopping 85 percent since 2013.
The count found a 16 percent increase in the number of homeless men, women and children on L.A. streets. The total number of homeless people is 41,174, which compares to 35,524 in 2013, LAHSA says.
The annual count had 5,500 volunteers, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti himself, hit the streets in January.
The good news is that the number of street-dwelling veterans, a core source of homelessness in the Veterans Affairs-adjacent West L.A. community, has remained virtually flat, at 4,016, which compares to 4,007 in 2003, the authority says.
In a statement, LAHSA recognizes the possibility that the numbers have lagged a few years behind the Great Recession:
There is a lag in rebound and the working poor and low-income individuals have been hit particularly hard, with the trifecta of unemployment, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing.
Indeed, while the effects of the recession have largely worn off for many Angelenos, the subsequent rent crisis — with L.A. ranking as the least affordable city in the nation for apartment dwellers — along with stagnant wages at the lower end of the economic totem poll, have continued to squeeze those on the borderline of living al fresco.
Here's one indicator that foreclosures and housing costs have impacted local homelessness: LAHSA says that the number of "family members" living on the streets together increased 12 percent, from 6,678 to 7,505, between 2013 and 2015.
It seems clear the gentrification of downtown, with moneyed loft-dwellers moving in by the thousands, is pressuring some homeless to move on, an issue not addressed by LAHSA. Peter Lynn, the authority's executive director, did say this:
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The demand for homeless assistance has increased in Los Angeles and several recent studies have confirmed our region’s housing and affordability crisis.
Mayor Garcetti said:
In January, I participated in this year’s LAHSA Homeless Count and saw firsthand the increase in our homeless population, showing that despite our progress, we must do more to end homelessness.