The Number of Homeless People in Los Angeles Increases by 9%

The increase in Los Angeles mirrors trends playing out in cities across the country, including Phoenix, as a housing shortage has led to rising costs, squeezing families.

A recent study led by an expert on homelessness at the University of California, San Francisco, found that a lack of affordable housing, not mental illness or substance abuse, was the main driver of homelessness in California.

The point-in-time count of people living outside or in homeless shelters takes place everywhere in the country and is federally mandated to occur at least every other year. In Los Angeles, volunteers fan out over a couple of nights each January to visually count people who appear to be living outdoors or in vehicles. Homeless service providers conduct surveys to get more detailed demographic information.

Across the nation, local governments and their data-collection partners release their counts at different times, so not all cities have provided their 2023 figures yet. Washington, D.C., has already reported an increase of 11 percent, while the Phoenix area said its homeless population was up 7 percent. Chicago and New York have said their homeless populations spiked in the past year as asylum seekers arrived; New York officials said on Wednesday that it had more than 100,000 people living in homeless shelters for the first time.

While point-in-time counts are an imperfect snapshot of homelessness, the count in Los Angeles County, the nation’s second-largest metropolis, remains one of few ways to measure progress in addressing the county’s most dire problem. Its housing crisis has in recent decades mushroomed into a complex and persistent humanitarian emergency.

Los Angeles is hardly the only American city to struggle with homelessness, but its homeless population is disproportionately large, and about 30 percent of the nation’s homeless population lives in California. As a result, Los Angeles is a kind of large-scale test case for which solutions work and which don’t.

For years, local leaders and advocates working on homelessness solutions have bemoaned a lack of urgency and coordination across Los Angeles, where the city and county have separate but overlapping governments.

And during the height of the pandemic, sprawling encampments that grew under freeway overpasses, in parks, on residential streets and on beaches became the most potent symbols of the sense of chaos that pervaded the city. While some residents called for the forceful removal of homeless people from the streets, activists protested such steps as cruel shortcuts.

Mayor Karen Bass, a longtime community organizer and former member of Congress, was elected last year on promises to make a dent in a colossal problem quickly. She vowed to move thousands of people living in encampments humanely, by spending more time on outreach before cleanups. She has said that the only way to achieve that goal is to improve communication among nonprofit groups and government agencies.

“The data gathered in January represents the crisis our city faces,” she said. “The challenge before us is vast, but we will continue to work with urgency to bring Angelenos inside.”

Dr. Adams Vellum noted that this year’s count took place a little more than a month after Ms. Bass was sworn in and that, in the months since, the mayor’s efforts have “shown overwhelming success.”

Ms. Bass recently highlighted that her administration had moved 14,381 people inside during the first six months of her term. She has also pushed to accelerate the construction of affordable housing.

But whether that work will actually decrease the number of people struggling with homelessness remains to be seen. Next year’s count will carry high stakes for her administration.

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