Last Thursday, the first round of data from LAHSA’s latest Homeless Count was announced and it highlights progress as well as challenges. Based on these preliminary numbers, homelessness has barely increased city-wide (1.7%), but in the West Valley, specifically in John Lee’s and my districts, the unsheltered homeless population has increased by about 300 people in each of our areas.
On the positive side, we have seen a 200% increase in people being sheltered in CD3 (meaning people who are no longer on the street, but are in temporary/interim housing where they have access to case workers and services). This is because we were able to quickly utilize state/federal funding opportunities to build cabin communities, Bridge Housing, hotel conversions and more. In the coming months, several new Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)/Affordable sites will open in the third district and more hotel conversions are underway. But, even more housing and services of all kinds are desperately needed. It’s not about PSH vs transitional housing or mental health care vs homeless outreach- we need more of everything but we have to be strategic — we can’t just throw money at the problem. Also, to achieve progress we need to be more efficient in cutting through red tape with better accountability and oversight.
It is extremely discouraging to see the homeless count numbers in CD3 still rise during a period of unprecedented investment in shelter/housing and services. While I’m very grateful to all the LAHSA workers and service providers who, day in and day out, work with my team to bring people indoors, I am also frustrated with the overall system. We simply are not getting the help we need to make a permanent improvement for people on the streets and sidewalks because the system is still too cumbersome and opaque.
When the emergency COVID and special state funds are exhausted, we will not be able to keep allocating the same level of funding year we have these past years, especially if we are not seeing visible improvements to move unsheltered people indoors permanently. Hopefully, the major investments we have been making will ultimately prove to be the foundation for more serious progress moving forward.
To say we need more help from the County is a huge understatement. More than half of the unsheltered population in CD3 suffers from serious mental illness and/or drug addiction and the crisis has dramatically increased the need for services and access to their programs. In the West Valley, I’ve had to redirect district specific city funds to bring in district specific professional assistance, including crisis response teams from the San Fernando Valley Mental Health Care Center as well as SHARE! to help house people faster. This is because many of our service providers say they don't have the resources for more intensive services to help address the crisis in our community. For the billions that we are collectively putting into solving our homelessness emergency, we urgently need help for people with unmet needs for health services including substance abuse treatment and mental health care.
It’s important to remember that the projections are based on the visible population on one night and that a continued review is critical. At the request of LAHSA, prior to the count my office prohibited any comprehensive clean ups of encampments in the immediate weeks leading up to the event. This was done to avoid artificially displacing people which might cause an underestimate of the count. This was not done in some other parts of the city and may have contributed to skewed results. Another contributing factor may relate to the difficulty of removing tents from the street even when they are unoccupied. There are a significant number of people who have beds in interim sites but still keep their RVs or tents on the sidewalk or street for storage or discretionary use. A count of RVs and tents can’t assess if the owner also has a shelter bed. I hope more work will be done to make sure these numbers are the best reflection of what’s happening in the West Valley.
Homelessness continues to be the most critical issue facing our region. Rents are high, wages aren’t rising as fast as inflation, and critical health services are out of reach for many- the pandemic just compounded these existing societal problems. My team and I are committed to staying focused on housing, growing our network of assistance and finding out where our systems can be more efficient. Angelenos in need must receive the health, drug addiction and mental health services they deserve and are due. In the short run, we need better transparency between agencies, better data and we need to streamline and cut costs for building affordable housing.
The numbers revealed by LAHSA are helpful clues as to what is happening around homelessness. However, the numbers deserve further scrutiny, and require other data and interpretation to truly understand where we are headed and how to best adjust our course when it comes to effectively preventing, reducing and solving for homelessness.
Do you like this page?