Despite spending millions on housing and one of the strongest economies in decades, the number of homeless people in the nation’s most populous county showed a dramatic increase in a new official count released Tuesday.
Los Angeles County’s homeless count rose 12% to 58,936, a reversal from the previous year when the number dropped by 4%. Though voters approved two massive bond measures to build more units as thousands live on city streets in tents, cars or in the open, officials say higher rents and a tight housing market are forcing more into homelessness.
“These numbers are very disappointing, very troubling, very sad,” said Janice Hahn, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, in light of the reversal. “We need to give the public answers on how we are going to get the chronically homeless off the streets.”
The city of Los Angeles alone saw a 16% increase to 36,300 after a 6% decrease in last year’s count.
“People are falling into homelessness at a faster clip,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Lynn said county homeless numbers were actually better than those being reported statewide. It’s up 35% statewide compared to 7% for Los Angeles County over two years, he said. He cited the difference as proof that housing availability is increasing and starting to have an impact.
Yet his agency says the state is short more than 500,000 affordable housing units for low-income renters, based on a Calfornia Housing Partnership Corp. study.
“We saw a broad strengthening of the economy, but in ways that left a lot of people behind,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for United Way of Los Angeles.
Higher counts come as both the city and the larger metropolitan area are trying to cope with homeless people camping on sidewalks, often surrounded by bicycle parts, abandoned furniture and piles of debris. Once confined to a downtown area known for decades as Skid Row, homeless campers have now fanned out across the city, emboldened by court orders that prevent police from removing them unless shelter space is available.
In the county, there were 14,722 living in shelters compared to 44,214 considered unsheltered.
Lately, homelessness has become a bigger issue in Los Angeles because of public health concerns, including a typhus outbreak. Dumped food has created a feast for rats, and a lack of toilets has made defection and urination on alleyways, streets and sidewalks more common, creating a major health concern.
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