The 2020 Homeless Count results released by LAHSA today provide a sobering reminder that although we have made tremendous strides in housing the homeless in our region, we are still far from ending homelessness. Until we begin to tackle the pipelines into homelessness, we will never truly get our arms around this issue.
The city saw a 14% increase in the number of individuals experiencing homelessness (13% increase countywide), even though the region housed far more people than in the previous year (39% increase in the city’s sheltered population). And the number of individuals falling into homelessness continues to outpace the number being sheltered. In fact, LAHSA’s survey results show that every day, though an average of 207 people are exiting homelessness, some 227 more people are still becoming homeless.
In recent years, the city’s focus has been on building more housing. And while more housing in a region where over 60% of its residents are rent-burdened or severely rent-burdened is a must, more housing, be it permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, affordable housing, or shelters, is not the silver bullet that will help us see our way out of our homelessness crisis. We need more housing of every kind, but we need to be responsible with taxpayer dollars, not only exploring less expensive and faster ways to bring new housing online, but also examining the impact of government-imposed fees on developing new housing units.
Homelessness is a multi-faceted problem, which requires a multi-faceted solution that engages - not avoids - the community. With a 20% increase in homelessness among seniors, a 19% increase among transitional-aged youth, and a higher and more accurate reporting of individuals struggling with substance abuse, we need to make sure our interventions are actually addressing the challenges and obstacles that our vulnerable populations face. Additionally, we need to work together with the state and federal government to address and change policies that have, though well-intentioned, actually served to make homelessness worse in California, such as no longer making treatment mandatory for mental illness and substance abuse.
In the name of individual and civil rights, we’ve created an environment where individuals can choose to live on the streets, oftentimes in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. This should never be considered normal or acceptable. Our approach and response to the homelessness crisis should be compassionate, but what we've allowed to happen on our streets and to our neighbors is not compassionate and they deserve better from all of us. To read more about the 2020 Homeless Count results, click here.