Today, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released the results of the 2020 Homeless Count and it shows a 13.6% (41,290) rise in homeless in the City of LA and a 12.7% (66,433) increase across the County of LA. In 2019, the rehousing system helped 22,769 people get into permanent housing, which is an unprecedented and impressive increase in placements. But, the sad reality is that more Angelenos are falling into homelessness than ever before. Though the council district specific numbers won’t be available for a few more days, it’s projected to show that the West Valley still has among the lowest homeless population compared to other communities in the city, but that doesn't negate the very serious humanitarian and quality of life crisis we still face.
We must do better to meet the need for shelter, permanent housing and services and I am hopeful that a negotiated settlement or district specific consent decree will enable a quantum leap in progress. I have had several meetings with Federal Judge David Carter who is presiding on the case that could yield this outcome, and a first step injunction which will enable us to provide shelter for those living under the freeway underpasses and simultaneously keep those underpasses clear is close at hand.
One thing remains very clear, we need more housing. Renters in LA County need to earn $41.96 per hour — 2.8x the City of L.A. minimum wage or about $87,000 per year — to afford the average monthly asking rent of $2,182. According to the 2020 CA Housing Partnership report, LA needs 509,000 new affordable housing units to meet current demand.
It’s a good step that 18,395 people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County were sheltered, up from 14,722 the previous year, a 27% increase. The impact of the “A Bridge Home” program was seen in the 39% increase in the City of Los Angeles sheltered population, from 8,944 to 12,438. Additionally 700 Permanent Supportive Housing units (PSH) came on line this year and 2,360 more units will open in the next 12 months.
However, here are some very troubling insights the report outlines:
• 20% increase in seniors 62+
• 45.7% increase in families
• 59% of newly homeless cite economic hardship as main reason
• 35% of unsheltered adults 18+ have a history of domestic, intimate partner and other sexual violence
• 19% increase in transition-aged youth (18-24)
• 555,105 of LA households are severely rent burdened
• 80% of unsheltered Angelenos have lived here for more than five years and two-thirds of unsheltered Angelenos became homeless in Los Angeles County
• There are glaring racial discrepancies as 8% of the overall population is black, but black people represent 34% of the homeless community
• Also this year LAHSA restructured survey questions on substance use while confirming previous estimates of mental health conditions. 14,284 unsheltered people (32%) report substance use, roughly double the prevalence under the previous methodology. 26% of unsheltered, or 11,711 people, report long-term mental health conditions.
Over the past few years we have brought more services to the West Valley and secured more housing, but it’s obviously far from enough. We have our innovative drug treatment program with Providence Tarzana Medical Center and Tarzana Treatment Centers which is helping homeless people with drug and mental health issues turn their lives around; we finally started construction on our Bridge Housing site; we secured funding for a new permanent supportive housing property in Canoga Park; we opened Safe Parking LA in the lot behind our district office; we moved LAHSA into an office in the West Valley Municipal Building so they can easily answer calls for help in our community; and we’ve gotten affordable housing included in numerous projects throughout the district, including a recent commitment by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield for 5% very low income units and 5% workforce housing units in their massive Promenade 2035 project.
The most affordable and efficient way to address homelessness is to help people not become homeless in the first place. We need to double down on our efforts and not be afraid to think outside the box. The recently announced $100 million Covid-19 related rental assistance program currently being considered by the Council is such an idea. We must continue encouraging the construction of more units and incentivize the housing we desperately need, like permanent supportive and affordable. It’s critical to partner with LA County and other service providers to continue to get people the mental health and drug care they require. As I’ve said before, it took decades to get where we are now and if we don't rise to the moment then we will continue to see despair and tragedy on the streets of our neighborhoods.
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