We're not the only ones who did a double take when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported this week that homelessness was down 38 percent in the county compared to 2007.
Let's get this straight: County unemployment, at 12.7 percent, is the highest it has been in a generation. Southern California is the capital of home foreclosures. The economy is the worst it's been since the Great Depression. And less people are on the street?
We're not buying. LAHSA is a joint city-county agency that funnels $70 in tax dollars to alleviate those on the streets. Homeless advocate Alice Callaghan, who runs the family services and education center Las Familias del Pueblo on Skid Row, says the agency is a tool of City Hall. She calls the report “the mayor's numbers.”
With all the policing dedicated to Skid Row since the Great Loft Boom of 2004, and with all the Minis and BMWs parked on the streets, Callaghan thinks the agency has incentive to show these voters that the city has made an impact.
“What doesn't make sense is to claim the problem has been alleviated and there are fewer homeless people,” Callaghan told the Weekly. “Clearly with unemployment and all the forecloses that's a ludicrous claim. That would defy every piece of evidence out there.”
This is spoken by a woman who works every day in the heart of skid row, on East Seventh Street. She acknowledges that police sweeps have pushed people around — often away from loft developments — but Callaghan says they always come back.
“The police go through and vanquish the homeless on certain streets for certain times so there's an appearance of homeless not being there,” she says. “People are more under bridges, under the riverbeds, under the 10 freeway, but as soon as that pressure is off everybody comes back.”
LAHSA argues that an array of new programs have helped to get people off the streets. By its count, conducted on the mid-winter dates of January 27 through 29, when less homeless people are out in the open, there are 43,000 people without shelter on the streets of L.A. compared to 71,000 in 2007.
“It is important to acknowledge new and expanded programs …,” states LAHSA. “Many of these new programs are funded by the county and city of Los Angeles, including the county's $100 million Homeless Prevention Initiative, the city Permanent Supportive Housing Program, and the expanded Section 8 voucher programs that specifically target homeless individuals.”
Callaghan maintains that the numbers and rationale don't make sense and that, perhaps, LAHSA wasn't looking hard enough.
“It's sad when you go out there and see the cars in parking lots at malls,” she says, ” — cars with a lot of stuff in them. People are sleeping in their cars.”