A jump in the number of Los Angeles County residents who became homeless in the last two years defied the national trend of a modest decline in the overall homeless population, according to federal estimates released Thursday.
Los Angeles County’s homeless population rose 15% from 2011 to 2013, to 57,737, a total second only to New York City. By contrast, the number of homeless Americans declined 6% since 2010, to 610,042, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Even sharper reductions — of 16% and 24% respectively — were recorded for people homeless more than a year and for homeless veterans, officials said. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said the progress, however, was imperiled by federal cutbacks, including a 5% reduction in federal funds for homeless programs starting Friday.
“We are not as far as we planned to be or as we should be,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
The estimates released Thursday were based on a one-night count conducted in January by 3,000 cities and counties across the nation. The Obama administration has promised to end homelessness among veterans and chronic homelessness by 2016.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said earlier this year that the county’s homeless population had climbed 16% from 2011 to 2013. The slightly lower HUD figure is correct, a spokesman for the local agency said.
The numbers in New York City, the nation’s homeless capital, climbed 25%, from 51,123 to 64,060, between 2011 and 2013. Donovan blamed the increases in Los Angeles and New York City, which together account for 20% of the nation's homeless population, on high housing costs.
“We are seeing more and more families fall into homelessness, as well as individuals who may cycle through homelessness during the year,” Donovan said.
Mike Arnold, the homeless authority's executive director, agreed that soaring housing costs were a key driver of homelessness in Los Angeles County.
Arnold said the cutoff of federal stimulus money in 2012 and prison realignment and early jail releases also pushed the numbers higher. The metropolitan area's biggest increase was in the single adult population, but Arnold pointed out that homeless families are difficult to count.
“The children may stay with a relative while the parent is forced to take to the streets,” Arnold said.
Donovan said Phoenix and New Orleans were doing a good job of reducing the number of city residents without homes. New Orleans cut its homeless population from 6,687 to 2,336 between 2011 and 2013, according to HUD figures.
Phoenix, however, reported a slight increase in homeless numbers, from 5,831 to 5,889. A HUD spokesman said Phoenix had been effective in taking down the number of people homeless a year or more.
Arnold said divining the causes of homelessness from a single-night count was a fool’s errand.
“We need to know more,” he said.