How Los Angeles’ homeless crisis got so bad

Miguel Hernandez, 50, drinks water outside his tent.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

So how did L.A.’s homeless problem get so bad?

That’s a question many are asking as Los Angeles elected leaders on Tuesday said they would declare a “state of emergency” on the growing homelessness problem and commit $100 million toward housing and other services for homeless people.

Here are some answers from The Times’ archives.

Is the homeless population really increasing?

Yes. It jumped 12% in the last two years in both the city and county of Los Angeles.

The number of tents, makeshift encampments and vehicles occupied by homeless people soared 85%, to 9,535, according to biennial figures from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.


Countywide, more than 44,000 homeless people were tallied in January, up from more than 39,000 in 2013, the report said. Well over half -- nearly 26,000 -- were in the city of Los Angeles.

Homelessness among veterans dropped 6% countywide, to about 4,400, but the report did not break out a comparable number for the city.

Why is this happening?

Experts blame soaring rents, low wages and stubbornly high unemployment.

They point to gentrification downtown and in Venice, where cheap hotel rooms, motels and single-room apartments -- once the last refuge of the poor -- are being eliminated.

The city’s affordable housing fund, which in 2008 totaled $108 million, plunged to $26 million in 2014. Officials are now trying to provide more money, but political backing to build housing throughout the county has been a struggle.

L.A.’s climate and warm weather have long been a magnet for homeless people.

Some who provide services to the homeless on skid row say the situation there -- both in terms of crime and health problems -- is the worst in years.


Is there a cycle of homelessness among the working poor?

Yes. About 13,000 people on public assistance tumble into homelessness every month in Los Angeles County, according to a new study.

Although many quickly find work or rely on family to get off the streets, the number experiencing “continuous, unremitting, chronic homelessness” continues to grow, even after 10,000 people were housed over the last three years, according to the report being released Tuesday by the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group in Los Angeles.

The report recommended that the welfare system intervene to help children and young adults who become homeless before their condition becomes chronic.

The group’s analysis was based on records for 9 million county residents who received public assistance at any point between 2002 and 2010. The study said people from many systems, including those dealing with disability, mental health, foster care and criminal justice, fed into the homelessness pipeline. The Great Recession also drove many out of their homes, it said.

Is there a way to learn where the homeless live in Los Angeles?


Yes. Here is an interactive map that shows the homeless population. It show heavy clusters in downtown, South L.A., Hollywood, Venice and Santa Monica.

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