SoCal's Homeless Crisis Is Accelerating. Here Are The 2020 Numbers

Tents along San Pedro Street in Downtown Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

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It's depressing, but here it is: over the last year, homelessness has increased by about 13% across Los Angeles County.

That's the number from the official L.A. County annual homeless count conducted in January. 66,433 Angelenos are now experiencing homelessness on any given night, up from about 59,000 last year.

On a video press call held Wednesday, the news that homelessness had jumped by another 13% was met with stunned silence and looks of horror by the reporters for whom the news was fresh.

It's not like homelessness services aren't making a dent. They are for some people — last year, officials say they found 23,000 people permanent housing, which is an achievement.

The bigger problem? 83,000 people lost their homes during the same time period — about 50% more than the year before, according to the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

It works out to about 227 people falling into homelessness every single day in Los Angeles County.

If you want to understand why people continue losing their homes, read this article we published last year: Homelessness Is Getting Worse In Southern California. Here's Why

Below is a breakdown of some of the latest information on those in a slow-motion humanitarian crisis.

(An important caveat: this year's census uses data taken before the COVID-19 pandemic altered, well, everything. Experts worry that the long-term toll of the pandemic could lead to an even larger jump in homelessness in the coming months.)

MOST ARE FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Consistent with years past, the vast majority of people experiencing homelesness in Los Angeles are long time Los Angeles residents.

  • 71% have lived in L.A. County for more than 10 years.
  • 21% have lived in L.A. County for less than five years.

Most also lived in Southern California before becoming homeless.

  • 74% lived in Los Angeles or another Southern California County before becoming homeless
  • 20% reported they became homeless in another state before coming to Los Angeles, a number consistent with past years.

BLACK ANGELENOS FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY TO BE HOMELESS THAN OTHERS

A man walks back to his tent under the bridge of the 110 Freeway at 37th Street last month. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

Homelessness affects all demographic groups in Los Angeles, but black Angelenos are overrepresented by a factor of four. Though black people comprise approximately 8% of L.A. County's population, 34% of those experiencing homelessness self-identify as black. That's because of the unique barriers black Americans face to material and physical security.

A report published last year examined this overrepresentation in detail, as well as systemic biases against black people within the existing homeless services system. According to that report, where roughly one in every 250 white residents are homeless, the rate for black residents is about one in 40.

Here is the breakdown by race and ethnicity:

  • Latinx residents represent 48.5% of L.A. County's population, but are 36.1% of those experiencing homelessness.
  • Black residents make up 7.9% of L.A. County's population, but comprise 33.7% of those experiencing homelessness.
  • American Indians are just 0.2% of L.A. County's population, but represent 1.1% of those experiencing homelessness.
  • White residents are approximately 26.3% of the county's population, and are 25.5% of those experiencing homelessness.
  • Asian identified residents make up 14.4% of the county, but represent just 1.2% of those experiencing homelessness.

FAMILY HOMELESSNESS HAS INCREASED

The 2020 point-in-time count also counted a 45.7% increase in family homelessness, where a family is defined as a household with at least one adult 18 years old or older with one dependent child.

LAHSA officials have said they made greater attempts to survey this population in 2020, which might account for some of the jump.

SENIOR HOMELESSNESS CONTINUES TO GO UP

One of the most alarming data points from the last few years is a growing share of older adults falling to the street. The 2020 homeless count saw another 20% jump in homelessness for adults aged 62+.

On the whole, people 62-years-old or older make now up almost 10% of the overall homeless population in Los Angeles.

MORE SUBSTANCE ABUSE, MENTAL ILLNESS REMAINS CONSISTENT

This year, LAHSA altered its methodology from previous years when trying to determine how many people experiencing homelessness are coping with either severe mental illness or unmedicated substance abuse.

  • 25% of homeless people report a serious mental illness, which remains consistent with previous years.
  • For those who report substance abuse, the number roughly doubled from last year to 27%.

HOMELESSNESS IS A REGIONAL CHALLENGE

It's not just Los Angeles County where homelessness continues increasing. Other Southern California counties also saw perceptible increases, according to LAHSA.

Homelessness continues increasing in most Southern California counties. (Image: LAHSA)

For L.A. County, LAHSA's report includes relatively detailed geographic breakdowns that reveal homelessness is increasing much faster in some regions than others.

Most notably: the Antelope Valley, the South Bay, and South Los Angeles all showed a year-over-year increase by more than a third. In the San Fernando Valley, homelessness rose by about a fifth over the last year.

From last year to this year, the only part of L.A. County that saw a decrease in homelessness was Southeast L.A. County.

Homelessness is increasing fastest in South Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley. (Image: LAHSA)

The City of Los Angeles, by and large the epicenter of the county's homelessness crisis, saw a year-over-year increase of 14.2%. More detailed city of L.A. information will become available in the coming weeks, but the overall point-in-time number for the city is 41,290.

IS ANYTHING EVEN BEING DONE?

You're probably wondering now if all the public money politicians say is being spent to fight homelessness is actually doing anything.

The answer is: "Yes, but."

Though voters have approved spending hundreds of millions of dollars on homelessness, and the state government chips in hundreds of millions more, the reality is these resources are tiny compared to the scale of the problem, and public budgets.

Consider L.A. County's 2020-2021 budget proposal, which totals more than $35 billion. Homelessness makes up $430 million of that proposed budget. $430 million is an enormous amount of money, but it's about roughly 1.2% of the total. (For comparison, the proposed 2020-21 budget for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is approximately $3.5 billion.)

It's not to say that the system L.A. has built to handle homelessness doesn't work — though there many who say that is the case. It's more like it's trying to bail out a sinking cruise ship with a bucket while the leak continues to get bigger.