LAHSA hosts virtual State of Homelessness Town Hall

By Sofia Santana

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) hosted a virtual State of Homelessness Town Hall to discuss homeless rehousing system data from 2020. The event was led by Heidi Marston, LAHSA’s executive director.

“We as a society have been desensitized and even normalized homelessness,” Marston said. “We have convinced ourselves that the basic human need of shelter or housing needs to be earned or deserved and that’s what we need to stop.”

According to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homelessness Count, 66,436 people in LA County are experiencing homelessness, a 12.7% increase from last year.

“I really want to center LAHSA as the leader of that rehousing work,” Marston said. “My top priority is to build LAHSA into LA’s homelessness system leader and central hub, advancing racial equity and ending homelessness faster for more Angelenos.”
Marston also highlighted the fact that while LAHSA has successfully rehoused 20,690 individuals that are experiencing homelessness, more work needs to be done to prevent homelessness and create housing.

She discussed some of the federal and state policy choices that have caused an increase in homelessness, which include the rising cost of rent in LA, the disinvestment of mental health and affordable housing programs, the lack of tenant protections and discriminatory land use, and mass incarceration which disproportionately affects people of color.

“We know that homelessness rises when the median rent in a region exceeds the median income by about 22%,” Marston said. “In LA, the median rent is about half, 46.7% of median income.”

Marston explained that because of LA’s large population, the rehousing efforts are led by a multitude of agencies that work with adults, families and youth experiencing homelessness including Valley Oasis, LA Family Housing, LA LGBT Center, and Safe Place for Youth.
She mentioned that although LA has an alarmingly high number of residents experiencing homelessness, the system of shelter, outreach and rehousing is among one of the nation’s most effective models.

“The goal is always to get everyone into housing,” Marston said. “We really take a whatever it takes approach to support people in becoming rehoused.”

LAHSA also works with the LA County Department of Health Services and the Department of Mental Health to help those with mental and physical health issues.

Marston explained that COVID-19 created an unexpected alignment of resources to help those experiencing homelessness.
She added that despite the difficulties the pandemic brought to residents and the county in 2020; over 5,500 Angelenos were kept from being pushed into homelessness; 27,325 people enrolled into shelters, which is 5% more than in 2019; and LAHSA helped 20,690 people experiencing homelessness move back into housing in 2020.

“These numbers clearly show that the homelessness response system continues to make significant progress towards ending homelessness in Los Angeles County,” Marston said. “However, our system cannot end homelessness alone. Our government partners must make significant investments in the prevention and housing creations systems if we are going to truly end homelessness.”

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