There are now 57,794 people without housing in L.A. County, up 23% from last year

By Gary Walker

The number of people sleeping on the streets, in vehicles or at emergency shelters throughout Los Angeles County has shot up 23% since last year, county officials announced Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual homeless count, conducted in January, documented 57,794 homeless people — 42,828 of them living in vehicles or homeless encampments.

Last year’s count logged 46,874 homeless people, 34,701 of them unsheltered.

That’s a difference of 10,920 people overall, including 8,100 who were not in shelters.

“Homelessness in Los Angeles County has grown at a shocking rate. Even as work is being done to get thousands of people off the street and into housing, more and more people are becoming homeless,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey. “It is clear that if we are going to end the homeless crisis, we need to stem the overwhelming tide of people falling into homelessness.”

While 14,214 homeless people moved into permanent housing in 2016, the January 2017 count identified 21,935 people who were homeless for the first time in their lives — 8,044 of them homeless for the first time in the past 12 months.

“It’s disheartening,” said Booker Pearson, a Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority commissioner who lives in Playa del Rey. “Income and wealth inequality is a big part of this, and until we can provide more ‘bridge’ housing and a place for people to go right now, we’re not going to make a dent in this thing.”

In Westside neighborhoods, homelessness increased 18%, a slightly lower rate than for all of Los Angeles County and for the city of Los Angeles as a whole (20%). A neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdown was not immediately available.

The city of Santa Monica, included in the Westside total, saw a simultaneous 26% year-over-year spike in citywide homelessness, from 728 people to 921. Last year the count logged 416 homeless people in outdoor encampments (excluding vehicles and shelters), that number climbing to 581 this year — an increase of more than 39%, said Santa Monica Human Services Administrator Margaret Willis.

John Maceri, executive director of Santa Monica-based nonprofit OPPC (formerly the Ocean Park Community Center) — the largest social services organization on the Westside — had expected to see an increase in homelessness but was still taken aback by the scope of that increase.

“I wasn’t surprised that the numbers were up,” he said, “but I was surprised at the total percentages. We’ve seen a huge explosion of homelessness in downtown and in other cities in the county.”

Community leaders do see hope on the horizon, however, in two voter-approved tax measures that will soon begin to fund housing and services for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

L.A. County Measure H will generate $350 million a year for homeless services, and L.A. City Proposition HHH will raise $1.2 billion over 10 years for affordable housing construction.

“In March, voters overwhelmingly approved Measure H — the largest investment in solutions to homelessness in our county’s history. These latest homeless count numbers only add to the importance of the work we will do in the next few months spending the Measure H funds,” Hahn said.

“Things are coming together,” said Pearson. “We’ve done so much locally to turn this thing around, and I’m very optimistic that we will.”