For the second year in a row, figures from the annual county homeless count have proved to be alarming. Last year saw a 20 percent increase in Angelenos living in encampments, tents and vehicles. This year there was a 23 percent increase in the overall number of people found on the streets countywide. For the city, that increase was 20 percent.
The number of homeless people counted countywide, 57,794, is less than 1,000 off from New York City's daily homeless figure of 58,550. L.A. County, which has more than 88 cities, is home to more than 10 million inhabitants, while New York City, a collection of five counties, or boroughs, has about 8.5 million residents. The city of L.A.'s homeless count reached 34,189. Critics say that because of L.A.'s ongoing housing crisis, the numbers will continue to rise.
“The numbers will continue to go up as we continue to allow the loss of affordable housing,” says Alice Callaghan, director of the Skid Row family services nonprofit Las Familias del Pueblo. “No one in this city is prepared to do anything about it.”
L.A. County rents have increased 32 percent since 2000, according to a recent report from the California Housing Partnership Corporation. At the same time, incomes in today's dollars have actually decreased about 3 percent, according to that report. The city has a limited-increase rent stabilization law that applies to units built in 1978 or earlier, but it doesn't apply to new buildings or just-vacated units.
Voters, many of whom see the suffering on streets across the metropolis everyday, have stepped up by passing the $1.2 billion city bond Measure HHH in November and the quarter-cent, countywide sales tax, Measure H, in March. The former could seed 10,000 new housing units; the latter could raise $355 million a year for homeless programs.
But Callaghan says it's too little too late, and that homeless figures will continue to rise until more radical solutions, such as halting the destruction of affordable units, are embraced. “Any new housing won't begin to replace what we continue to lose every year,” she says.
The California Housing Partnership Corporation this month concluded that the county needs an additional 551,807 units for people on the edge of homelessness. And last year, the “State of the Nation’s Housing” report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies found that L.A. County needed 382,000 additional units for renters with extremely low incomes. The homeless figures make “it very clear that our continuing homeless crisis is being driven by a housing crisis,” L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement.
Even Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a leader of seemingly infinite optimism, said at a news conference, “There's no sugarcoating the bad news.” In a statement he said the figures were no surprise to locals, who “have seen the number of unsheltered people in their neighborhoods grow before their eyes.”
“The city of Los Angeles is making progress in our efforts — housing more than 9,000 people in 2016 alone,” he said. “But the extraordinary number of people falling into homelessness shows that we still face a historic shortage of affordable housing, a staggering mental health crisis, insufficient support for veterans and foster youth, and inadequate resources to help formerly incarcerated Angelenos turn their lives around.”
Callaghan thinks this is only the beginning.
“People are going to be on the sidewalks,” she says. “Where else are we going to expect them to be? Sidewalks are the affordable housing of last resort.”