Opinion: L.A.’s new homeless numbers are grim. Why?


Homelessness is everywhere, and if you thought this fog of misery was beginning to lift, think again. In fact, the new numbers are grim. The number of homeless people has risen a startling 20% in the city of Los Angeles and 23% in the county, according to the results of the 2017 countywide street and shelter count of homeless people over three nights in January. On Wednesday morning, those results will be officially unveiled and dissected by political leaders and executives of the joint city-county agency, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, known as LAHSA.

The count tallied 34,189 homeless people in the city of Los Angeles. That’s up from 28,464 in 2016. In the County of Los Angeles, the tally was 57,794. That’s up from the 43,854 homeless people counted last year. And there’s a 50% increase in people living in their cars.

It was bad enough news when homelessness figures for the county and for the city each went up 12% in 2015 over 2013. That increase helped jolt public officials into realizing homelessness was an urgent, escalating problem. Now it’s just escalated even more — despite one-time funds that both the county and the city appropriated last year.


And there’s more troubling news: Veteran homelessness, which went down significantly by the 2016 count after an infusion of federal funds, jumped 57% this year to 4,828, higher than in 2015.

Yet, LAHSA says it made more housing placements than ever in 2016.

So, what’s going on? Certainly, no one expected the numbers to go down 20% this year. But are we just barely treading water as more people fall into homelessness? Surely, these figures are, at least partially, the result of a deplorable lack of affordable housing — the kind that is truly affordable to working-class and poor people. LAHSA officials are expected to talk about the overall rise of rents and the decrease in renters’ income. Of course, the city is gearing up to spend $1.2 billion of bond money on housing over the next decade, which should — which better — make a dent in homelessness. But we also need to ask how well the city and county are spending the money that they have already allocated for homelessness. And how well is LAHSA doing its job if the numbers keep going up? Could this agency be more effective in some ways?

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