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Housing and Homelessness

Will LA's Unhoused Count Help Bring Resources For The Homelessness Crisis?

Outreach workers, seen from the back, are walking down a street. A man and a woman on the left are wearing tops with the words LAHSA on them; the man on the right is wearing a neon green jacket. All three are wearing blue masks
Garrett Lee (right) of DMH’s HOME Team, collaborated in April 2020 with LAHSA’s Homeless Engagement Team during outreach in the targeted COVID-19 testing efforts in the homeless community.
(Courtesy of Los Angeles County)
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The 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count is underway and the results will determine where resources should be allocated for people experiencing homelessness.

The count’s results are used by the local government to obtain federal resources used to help combat homelessness.

For the most recent fiscal year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority managed nearly $650 million in funding from federal, state, county and city resources to be used for services like outreach, emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent or supportive housing.

But according to unhoused people interviewed for this story, the money is not going through, although the city has committed significant resources to combat the homelessness crisis.

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“Show me the difference,” said Otis Gossett. He’s been living outside in a tent since last summer near L.A. City hall while he waits on an affordable apartment to be approved. “If I don’t see it, I don’t believe it.”

Gossett said it seems to him that the majority of resources goes to the city harassing unhoused people through encampment sweeps.

A 60-year-old Latino unhoused man also near L.A. City Hall who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation said he fears there’s a lot of people pocketing the money.

“The money isn’t being used properly. Look at everyone around struggling with drug addiction,” the man said.

Hillary Jones, a 60-year-old unhoused woman said she doesn’t think the money is being used properly. She’s been outside City Hall for years and in and out of shelters.

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A view of a bridge that connects city hall to additional staff offices.
Unhoused people continue to live across from City Hall.
(Ethan Ward
/
LAist)

Gary Painter, director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, said unhoused people’s questions about remaining unhoused despite the level of resources committed to combating homelessness is something everyone should be asking.

“Our scale of actual spending given the number of people who live in L.A. County and the number of people experiencing homelessness still remains far from what a comparable system spends,” Painter said.

The scale of spending in programs such as Measure H (the Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness) isn’t comparable to cities like New York, according to Painter.

“New York City, just on hotel vouchers, spends more than all of Measure H’s budget for L.A. County just for hotels,” Painter said. “That doesn't include permanent supportive housing, shelter and interim housing.”

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Painter said although the city has housed more unhoused people than before, more of them have started experiencing homelessness at an increasing rate because of decades of neglect, such as not building affordable housing.

“We are at an obvious pivot point that requires additional resources, but also completely changing how we operate in our housing market,” he said, adding there should be additional focus on how substance abuse disorder and mental illnesses are addressed.

Our scale of actual spending given the number of people who live in L.A. County and the number of people experiencing homelessness still remains far from what a comparable system spends.
— Gary Painter, director, Homelessness Policy Research Institute

At a press conference on Tuesday to kick off the unhoused count, officials weighed in on the importance of the count.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti pointed out the progress the city has made to combat homelessness, referring to nearly 14,000 people who were put into shelter last year.

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“It’s tough to see when you see tents in your neighborhoods,” Garcetti said at the press conference. He said the City can’t get more money if it doesn’t count people where they are, adding that this count is significant because it’s the first since the pandemic began.

“It is how we will wrap our arms around the impacts of COVID-19 and both marshal resources and build momentum to quickly roll out the services, support, and housing that people need and deserve,” said Garcetti in a statement.

L.A. City Councilmember Kevin de León, who represents much of downtown, called his district “ground zero” for homelessness. He said the count is crucial to lobby for funding at the state and federal level.

“The machine of progress seems to grind to a halt when it comes to finding interim or permanent housing for our unhoused neighbors,” de León said at the press conference.

L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said the count informs policy decisions that result in direct services for the unhoused. She said by counting our unhoused, “we are sending the message that we will not give up this fight until every single person sleeping on our streets is housed and safe.”

L.A. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said at the press conference she knows everyone is frustrated that housing hasn’t been found for everyone and she’s frustrated too. She said thousands have found housing or shelter.

“It’s important not to lose sight of what we have achieved,” Kuehl said. “We have accomplished a lot…we have a lot still to do.”

We continue to see more people becoming homeless than our system is resourced to support.
— Ahmad Chapman, LAHSA Communications Director

Heidi Marston, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), said this year’s count will give a good comparison of what the homelessness situation looks like pre- and post-Covid. She said they’ve asked for the eviction moratorium to stay in place so more people don’t fall into homelessness.

State Senate Majority Leader Emeritus Bob Hertzberg was at the press conference and said it hurts that a count for the unhoused is even needed, but it’s a good thing to have a better idea of how many people are on the streets.

“It is our responsibility to deal with the complex web of poverty, mental illness, public health that leads to homelessness to make sure that very, very soon we don’t need a homeless count,” Hertzberg said. “I hope this year’s homeless count will immediately put us on the right track to get things done as quickly as possible so we can build back the confidence in the government.”

According to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, LAHSA is responsible for conducting the count every other year, but the agency does it every year to have accurate numbers.

Painter, with USC, said the agency doesn’t determine how much money is spent, but they do play a critical strategy and support function, and are the conduit for federal resources (to learn more about what LAHSA does, read our explainer here).

“Our rehousing system has used its funding to end homelessness for over 65,000 people from 2018 to 2020, nearly the entire size of the unhoused population,” said Ahmad Chapman, LAHSA Communications Director. “However, we continue to see more people becoming homeless than our system is resourced to support. What we know is that the way to end homelessness is with homes. That’s why our community must be unrelenting in its investments towards increasing affordable, permanent housing options across the region.”

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has overseen the count each year since 2016. The unsheltered count was canceled for 2021 due to the pandemic. In 2020, the last time the unsheltered count happened, there were roughly 66,000 people living on the street in tents, makeshift dwellings, and vehicles across L.A. County.

This year’s count cost nearly $1.7 million to conduct, which includes the cost of the new app volunteers are using to map encampments. The results of the 2022 count are expected to be released in late May or early June.

What questions do you have about homelessness?
Ethan Ward for a time lived in his car while attending community college. That experience informs his reporting on one of the most pressing issues in Southern California.