Los Angeles County spends $1 billion managing homelessness, report finds

Homeless census

Derrick Chambers checks out a homeless  encampment in the Lancaster desert during the annual homeless census in January.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County spends close to $1 billion a year caring for and managing homeless people, with a majority of the money going to their health needs, according to a new report.

More than half of the $577 million in health spending went to mental health treatment, the county study found. Another $294 million was for cash benefits and food stamps for homeless individuals.

While much of the health-related costs are covered by the state through the Medi-Cal program, welfare payments and food stamps are not. Largely as a result of general relief cash benefits, the county’s biggest payout from its own general fund, $176 million, goes to the department of public social services, the study found.

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Law enforcement costs, including arrests by the Sheriff’s Department, jail stays and probation supervision for homeless people, came in lower, at $41 million.

The cost study “is consistent with a mounting body of research showing the stark fiscal implications homelessness presents for public administrators and the agencies and programs they manage,” it said.

“Some housing assistance would probably reduce these costs considerably,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C.

The study, produced for the county chief executive office’s homeless initiative, examined costs for 150,000 single adults who experienced homelessness during a 12-month period in 2014-2015. The county board of supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider adopting a plan developed by the homeless initiative. 


Roman said she believed the study is the most comprehensive examination of the costs of homelessness ever conducted among single adults. More than 80% of L.A. County’s 44,000 homeless people are single adults.

Officials last spring reported that the city of Los Angeles spends more than $100 million a year coping with homelessness, including $87 million on law enforcement interventions. Libraries, parks, sanitation crews and paramedics also devote significant resources to handling homeless people, the city said in its 21-page report.

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