Even as housing placements reach new heights, 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count shows 12% rise in homelessness
Two years into a 10-year investment with Measure H, LA’s homeless services system is preventing and ending homelessness for more people than ever before, but the housing crisis and economic disparities are pushing more people into homelessness
LOS ANGELES, CA—In a presentation to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority released the results of the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which showed 58,936 people in Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness, representing a 12% rise from last year’s point-in-time count of 52,765. The city of Los Angeles saw a 16% rise to 36,300.
Two years into the 10-year investments from Measure H, LA County’s homeless services system has doubled the number of people moving from homelessness into housing over the course of each year, and tripled prevention, outreach, and engagement.
The homeless crisis response system helped 21,631 people move into permanent housing over the course of last year—40 percent of last year’s Count number, and a number that would end homelessness in most American cities and even states. Ninety-two percent of the people placed in permanent housing through our system in 2016 and 2017 stayed housed through the end of 2018 and did not return to homelessness.
Yet as thousands of people were permanently housed, thousands more fell into homelessness due to economic forces and the interlocking systems of foster care, mental health, criminal justice, and the housing market, outpacing the results.
“Our ability to reach, serve, and house people experiencing homelessness has risen enormously since voters made unprecedented investments in our homeless services system in 2016 and 2017,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of LAHSA. “And at the same time our regional housing affordability crisis continues to drive thousands into homelessness. It’s critical that we work with local community members and every level of government to increase affordable housing, limit rent increases, and prevent unjust evictions while we continue to scale up and refine our system.”
This year’s Count revealed that 23% of the unsheltered people experiencing homelessness—more than 9,200 people—were homeless for the first time last year. The majority (53%) cited economic hardship as the cause.
The Count revealed that widely coordinated efforts to assist veterans had resulted in a small decrease in that population (from 3,886 to 3,874 ), a positive development given the overall rise. And Black/African-American people, who constitute 8.3% of the overall county population, continue to be overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness at 33%—though that figure has decreased slightly from its 2018 level of 35%.
In 2018, new resources made a tremendous difference in the capacity of the homeless services system. Compared to 2015, the system has placed twice as many people into permanent homes, prevented three times as many people from falling into homelessness (5,643), and completed outreach to three times as many people (34,110). In the past year, 75,796 people were helped by the programs and services of LA’s homeless services system—and 80% of them were new to that system.
The percentage rise in Los Angeles County’s homeless population was low relative to that in neighboring counties such as Ventura (+28%), Orange (+43%), and Kern (+50%), strongly suggesting that the aggressive deployment of resources limited the increase in homelessness this year.
The next two years will see thousands more homes become available. Prop HHH funds are currently dedicated to 5,303 units, more than half of the 10,000 unit target. Including those developed with county affordable housing funds, 1,397 units will open in fiscal year 2019-20, and 2,758 in FY 2020-21.
Yet vastly more housing and shelter beds are needed. Around 31,500 people are currently in the system, have been assessed by case managers, and have said yes to housing—but are awaiting a place to call home due to the shortage of affordable housing stock and associated rental subsidies.
The homelessness crisis is part of a broader economic and housing crisis. According to the California Housing Partnership Corporation, Los Angeles has a shortage of 516,946 new affordable units for low-income renters. The abilities of the rich and the poor to pay for housing have diverged: since 2008, the housing expenditures of higher-income residents have fallen 2%, while lower-income residents’ housing expenditures have risen 14%. California has the highest number of people in poverty of any state, and Los Angeles County has the highest poverty rate within it at 24.3%.
City, community, and neighborhood-level data on homelessness will be released with the Homeless Count results on LAHSA’s website. However, the initial results provide a snapshot of homelessness in Los Angeles County as it was January 2019, the time of this year’s Homeless Count. Amid the 12% overall countywide rise, notable Count results appeared for several subpopulations:
- The number of veterans decreased slightly (3,874) after housing a number equivalent to two-thirds the number counted in 2018. A larger investment at the federal level in resources for homeless veterans than any other population prevented a rise. Expanded cooperation between the VA and LAHSA will improve services to veterans.
- Family numbers went up 6.4%. Expanded rapid re-housing and interim housing have made a difference. Expanded funding of prevention and crisis resources will keep more families housed.
- Youth homelessness rose 24%—in part because of improvements in counting this population. Rapid re-housing saw two-thirds of exits to permanent housing. Programs for transition age youth (TAY) grew, and partnerships with the community college system, the Probation Department, and the Department of Children and Family Services are all helping.*
- The number of chronically homeless people went up 17%. Non-chronic single adults are the least-resourced population, and many aged into chronic status. New resources for housing construction, mental health services, and case management will help this population.
- The number of seniors 62 and over rose 8.2%, markedly less than the overall rise. New senior shelter beds, focused outreach and strategic partnerships, and targeted temporary rental subsidies are helping seniors.*
- The numbers of people in tents and makeshift shelters rose 17% and the number of people in vehicles rose 5%. These often indicate first-time homelessness. Our system has increased outreach staff, including clinical experts, as well as more intensive field-based services for those with serious mental illness. An increased interim housing inventory and an expanded Safe Parking program will provide further assistance here.*
*Selected figures apply to the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, which excludes Glendale, Long Beach, and Pasadena.
The majority of people experiencing homelessness do not report serious mental illness or substance abuse. For those who do (29%, consistent with national homelessness data), more resources are available than ever to help achieve stability and housing, including new intensive case management services as well as specialized outreach teams including doctors and nurses providing street-based mental health care. Five new Skid Row mental health urgent care centers and a sobering center have recently opened, the LA County Department of Mental Health has expanded street outreach teams and interim housing beds, and more highly vulnerable people are being sheltered.
New resources coming into the homeless services system will help continue efforts to scale, refine, and innovate to address the crisis head on. The $460 million Measure H budget for FY 2019-20 ($58M increase over FY 2018-19) will help scale up these efforts, and Governor Newsom’s May budget revision adds $650 million in one-time funding. Chief legislative priorities to address the crisis are to preserve and increase the stock of affordable housing, prevent unjust evictions, prohibit rent gouging, and facilitate faster construction of new housing and conversion of motels into housing. Additionally, community members can help by saying yes to more housing in their neighborhoods. Landlords can become Section 8 providers, participate in rapid re-housing, and become a part of the solution through LAHSA’s Lease Up program.
Thousands of volunteers participated in the January 2019 point-in-time census of the tens of thousands of homeless youth and families, veterans of the armed forces, and men and women who are our neighbors. The information gleaned from the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count is used by policymakers, advocates, and service providers to better understand and implement solutions to address homelessness.
“We housed more than 21,000 people last year, and LA’s increase is half the statewide average of 32 percent—thanks in large part to the vision and courage that Angelenos showed in passing Prop. HHH and Measure H,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “While we did better, it’s not good enough. That’s why we’re putting more resources than ever into meeting the urgency of the moment. We cannot let a set of difficult numbers discourage us, or weaken our resolve. And I know that, if we keep working together, believing in one another, and caring for people in desperate situations, we will end homelessness in this city.”
“The homelessness crisis took decades to create, and we knew it wouldn’t be solved overnight, but that doesn’t mean these latest numbers aren’t disheartening,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “Even though our data shows we are housing more people than ever, it is hard to be optimistic when that progress is overwhelmed by the number of people falling into homelessness. This data makes clear the serious challenges that we face but it does not change this Board’s commitment to addressing this unprecedented crisis with unprecedented resources.”
“With the voters’ approval of Measure H, LA County has been able to build more shelter, provide more services, and place more people into temporary and permanent housing than ever before,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “It is clear that Los Angeles County residents are not immune to external economic forces that are driving economic disparity. While unemployment is low, wages haven’t kept up with rising rents, and many people are one financial crisis away from sleeping in their cars, in a homeless shelter, or on the street. Unfortunately, no matter how many people are coming forward and accepting services, shelter, and housing, more people are falling into homelessness. As we face these ongoing challenges, my resolve to end homelessness has never been stronger. This Board will work together with our partners everywhere to lift our friends, families, and neighbors out of poverty and into a place they can call home.”
“It is the height of contradiction that in the midst of great prosperity across the Golden State, we are also seeing unprecedented increases in homelessness,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It is simply not golden for everyone. We are building a robust safety net in LA County, but we have to work upstream to address the economic inequities and lack of affordable housing that are becoming, far too often, the attributing factors to our fellow Angelenos falling into homelessness. There is no rest for the weary, and there is no retreat. We must intensify our collective efforts, and keep our eye on the prize. Everyone In.”
About the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA): LAHSA is a joint powers authority of the city and county of Los Angeles, created in 1993 to address the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles County. LAHSA is the lead agency in the HUD-funded Los Angeles Continuum of Care, and coordinates and manages over $300 million annually in federal, state, county, and city funds for programs providing shelter, housing, and services to people experiencing homelessness.