There's Been a Huge Increase in "Visible" Homelessness in L.A.

Those homeless encampments you see everywhere aren't lying.

Homelessness continued to rise in Los Angeles County this year, according to the latest  Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) count of people living on the street.

LAHSA, which conducted its count in January, found that the number of homeless in the county increased 5.7 percent, from 44,359 last year to 46,874 in 2016.

But the most striking figure came in the form of the "most visible form of homelessness" — encampments, tents and vehicles that now house thousands of Angelenos, LAHSA said in a statement.

The agency said there was a 20 percent increase in this form of living.

Last year the L.A. City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency when it comes to L.A.'s homeless situation. This year the mayor pledged $138 million to deal with the crisis. And in 2014 he pledged to end veteran homelessness by last year, but he walked back the promise after realizing it wasn't going to happen.

Today the mayor looked at the bright side of today's report.

"The results of LAHSA's homeless count show that when we target our resources to help specific populations — such as homeless families and veterans — we get results and save lives," Garcetti said. "As a city, we housed nearly 10,000 people in 2015 alone, including 2,668 veterans and 2,846 chronically homeless people — more than any other city in the country. These figures prove that our strategic efforts are working."

Indeed, LAHSA highlighted the promising parts of its count: The number of veterans on the street decreased by 30 percent; the number of  homeless family members on the street decreased 18 percent; and 13,828 people were placed in homes over the last year.

Still, the numbers are pretty dire.

Last year's count noted a 16 percent increase in the number of homeless men, women and children and represented nearly double the number of homeless L.A. County had in 2009, which was the official end of the Great Recession.

It's not all City Hall's fault.

Keep in mind, for example, that this count is countywide. The city of L.A.'s total population is estimated by the state to be greater than 4 million; the county's is 10 million-plus. Yet downtown's Skid Row has been a regional if not national magnet for homeless people for decades.

Los Angeles has an ultra-low rental vacancy rate (LAHSA pegs it at lower than 3 percent; others say it's closer to 4 percent), the least-affordable rents in the nation, a class of active voters opposed to new construction, and development that can't keep up with population growth.

"Despite our progress, Los Angeles is facing a historic housing shortage, a staggering mental health crisis, and veterans are becoming homeless every day," Garcetti said. "As a city, we have launched efforts to tackle these issues — securing record federal investments in supportive services for veteran families, producing a comprehensive homelessness strategy report, and expanding a robust winter shelter program. This year, we are doubling down on our work."


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