The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County jumped 12 percent in the past two years, to more than 44,000, amid a sluggish economic recovery that has left the poorest residents of the second-largest U.S. metropolitan area falling farther behind, a study released on Monday found.
Most of those counted weren’t staying in homeless shelters. The study also found that the number of tents, makeshift encampments and vehicles with people living in them jumped by 85 percent, to about 9,500.
“California was one of the hardest-hit states in the country during the economic recession, suffering high unemployment and high job losses,” the housing authority said in a news release. “There is a lag in rebound, and the working poor and low-income individuals have been hit particularly hard, with the trifecta of unemployment, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing.”
“The economy has improved, but not for the persons at greatest risk of homelessness,” said Peter Lynn, the authority’s executive director.
Other big cities have experienced similar increases in homelessness for many of the same reasons. According to the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, the number of New Yorkers sleeping in the city’s many shelters is up more than 65 percent from 10 years ago. In January the system held more than 60,000 people, including more than 25,000 kids.
Studies have found that Southern California, like New York City, has some of the highest rents in the nation and that throughout California, 1.5 million households lack access to affordable housing. The California Housing Partnership Report (PDF), issued in April, said that the state’s lowest-income households spend two-thirds of their income on housing.
“It’s everywhere now. The encampments are in residential neighborhoods. They’re outside of schools,” L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, told The Los Angeles Times. “It’s jarring … It shows we’ve got a … lot of work ahead.”
The issue of homelessness has raised new concerns with the shootings of two homeless men by Los Angeles police on March 1 on Skid Row and on May 5 in the Venice area. The area has one of the greatest concentrations of homeless people in the United States.
The homeless count found one bright spot: The number of homeless veterans dipped by 6 percent, to about 4,000, after local and federal efforts efforts to get them off the streets. The Los Angeles alone has housed 7,500 veterans since 2013, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to house all homeless veterans in the city by the end of the year.
“Ending homelessness is one of my top priorities as mayor, and we’ve made significant progress,” he said in a statement. However, “we must do more,” he said.
The mayor said he has expanded homeless emergency-response teams, proposed increasing the city’s minimum wage and included in his budget proposal about $10 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to increase the supply of affordable housing.
A study released last month found that Los Angeles spends $100 million a year to deal with homelessness — much of it on arrests and other police services — but has no coordinated approach for dealing with the problem.
Alice Callaghan, a longtime advocate for the homeless on Skid Row, said that city leaders have failed to stop the loss of affordable housing.
“All we get from City Hall is breezy poetry — ‘I will house everybody by next year.’ That’s absurd. There’s no housing to put people in,” she told the Times. “It’s very depressing. I don’t think people understand how bad it is.”