The first head count of homeless people in Los Angeles County found more than 90,000 men, women and children living on streets and in encampments, vehicles and shelters -- with about 35,000 of them chronically homeless.
Previous estimates of the subgroup who have been homeless for more than a year -- and who traditionally require more intensive and costly services -- were only about 7,500 people.
The count of people who are homeless at any given time was close to prior estimates, which ranged as high as 84,000 people. The street count, using more than 1,000 paid and volunteer canvassers, was conducted in 512 census tracts over three consecutive nights in January. Separate surveys were conducted in scores of shelters, recovery facilities, jails and hospitals.
The count also included face-to-face surveys to collect detailed demographic data and a telephone survey of randomly selected households to find homeless family members who might elude street enumerators.
People who work with the homeless say they hope the new statistically accurate numbers will validate concerns they have raised for years about the extent of the problems.
Few political leaders have made the issue a priority, and homelessness was barely mentioned during the recent mayoral election.
“Our job was already quite monumental and now has become even more so,” said Mitchell Netburn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which administers federal homeless funds and commissioned the count. “This has to make our resolve that much stronger to address it. People can no longer ignore the problem or say, ‘I don’t see that many homeless people, where are they?’ ”
Details of the homeless count, one of the most ambitious in the nation, were to be presented at a news conference today.
The homeless population in greater Los Angeles -- including Santa Monica and unincorporated areas -- is 83,347, according to the count. Over the course of a year, an estimated 224,203 separate individuals are at some point homeless in greater Los Angeles.
The overall county total, including Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena -- which do their own counts -- is estimated at 90,000. That means that on any given day, the number of homeless countywide almost equals the population of Santa Barbara.
Los Angeles County officials said the numbers should prompt more intensive efforts to find solutions to the problem.
“This, to my knowledge, is the first really aggressive, thorough count of homeless persons in the county where we had volunteers teamed up with homeless people who knew every nook and cranny and were able to get a real-world count,” County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.
“It means we’ve got to go beyond just sheltering people. This county has to make eye contact with every homeless person. We’ve got to feel the pain but also feel the opportunity to invest. It’s not good enough just to warehouse people,” he said.
Yaroslavsky said he would introduce a package of measures next week to fund more homeless services, including shelters and transitional housing.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes downtown’s skid row and who is among the few political leaders to champion the issue, said the numbers indicate a need for more regional planning.
“We need regional shelters immediately to prevent people from falling off the grid,” Perry said. “We need municipalities and other county districts to share responsibility. Services can’t just be concentrated downtown.”
The county contracted with Applied Survey Research, a Watsonville-based firm that has done previous homeless surveys, to compile the data. UCLA researchers used census figures, welfare rolls, land-use plans and other data to come up with a statistically accurate countywide estimate.
While Los Angeles County had already gained notoriety as the homeless capital of America, the previous estimates -- anywhere from 78,000 to 84,000 homeless -- were 10 years old and based on administrative records.
An accurate count is important because it is used when applying for federal funds for such programs as housing and mental health services.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had asked cities and counties that receive federal aid for the homeless to provide statistically valid counts when they apply for grants. And with more than $1.2 billion in federal aid at stake, about 430 of them, including Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, undertook counts.
Volunteers in Orange County counted 22,784 homeless people in the county’s shelters and on its streets, said Karen Roper, executive director of the county’s Office on Aging and Homeless Prevention.
She was quick to add, however, that the HUD-ordered census may have missed large numbers of homeless people because it did not cover motels.
“In Orange County a large percentage of our homeless people are the working poor who are in and out of motels,” Roper said. “We are not hanging our hats on this [HUD] number, no way.”
The new data found that homelessness in Los Angeles County outstrips that in New York, with an estimated 40,000 homeless; Chicago, with about 9,600; and San Francisco, which counted 5,600 homeless people.
More than 28,000 of those on Los Angeles streets suffer from severe mental illnesses, and 16,000 of the homeless are veterans, according to the count.
Toni Reinis, executive director of New Directions, which provides services for homeless veterans, said their numbers in the count appeared low and will probably rise because of recent military conflicts. “We have the Iraqi and Afghani veterans returning, often without resources or jobs and terribly traumatized, and their mental health needs are greater,” she noted.
More detailed findings from the count, including geographic breakdowns and causes of homelessness, will be released later this month, said Peter Connery, vice president of Applied Survey Research.
“I do think the climate has changed,” he said. “Episodes of homelessness are becoming longer; more and more are being driven into the shadows. There’s a significant amount of true homelessness that exists just beyond the HUD definition that are accessing a tremendous number of homeless services. There are a lot of families [who are] taking care of their own and consider their fellow family members homeless.”
Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.
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A look at the 83,347 homeless in Greater L.A. counted on Jan. 25, 26, and 27:
Men : 57,426 (69%)
Women: 24,671 (30%)
Transgender/unknown: 1,250 (1%)
Black: 32,255 (39%)
White: 23,921 (29%)
Latino: 20,920 (25%)
Multi-ethnic/other: 6,251 (7%)
Veterans: 16,181 (19%)
Chronically homeless: 34,898 (42%)
Severely mentally ill: 28,431 (34%)
Chronic substance abusers: 39,038 (47%)
People with HIV/AIDS: 2,917 (4%)
Victims of domestic violence: 9,711 (12%)
Note: Count does not include the cities of Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena. Demographic information is based on surveys of 3,300 individuals. Percentages may not total 100 because of rounding.
Source: Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority
LESLIE CARLSON Los Angeles Times