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LA Leads The Nation In Chronic Homelessness

A key difference between the West Coast and the East Coast is the percentage of homeless people who can find a space in a shelter versus those who can't. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Matt Tinoco and Ryan Fonseca

Homelessness in the U.S. rose slightly -- about a third of a percentage point -- between 2017 and 2018, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While much of the data in the report isn't new, it does provide new context for the homelessness crisis. For example, nearly half of all the unsheltered homeless people in the United States live here in California. And the largest increases in the homeless population happened mostly in suburban areas, like Orange County.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in "largely suburban" regions rose 3 percent, according to the HUD report. Orange County is categorized as one of those regions and had the highest number of people experiencing homelessness.

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A key difference between the West Coast and the East Coast is the percentage of homeless people who can find a space in a shelter versus those who can't, and are forced to sleep on the street, under an overpass or in a car.

In New York City, just 5 percent of the people who experience homelessness are unsheltered. But in Los Angeles County, unsheltered people make up 75 percent of the total homeless population.

The L.A. city and county "Continuum of Care" also had the highest percentage of people nationwide who are experiencing chronic homelessness -- roughly 15 percent, the report states. The region also has "the highest percentage of chronically homeless individuals staying outdoors, at 94 percent."

A few bright notes in the report: the number of chronically homeless individuals in California is down more than 8 percent from last year and nearly 20 percent since 2007. And between 2017 and 2018, the number of people experiencing homelessness counted in Los Angeles County dropped by about four percent.

Here's How You Can Help Your Homeless Neighbors

Homeless encampment resident Tammy Schuler walks her dogs beside a row of tents and tarps that line the Santa Ana River bicycle path, near Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Jan. 25, 2018. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The report also showed that homelessness among the nation's veterans was down overall, though the five major cities with the highest number of unsheltered veterans were all in California. Los Angeles led them, with about 76 percent of its homeless veterans going without shelter, according to the HUD report.

The figures listed in the report are a result of a few nights of counting conducted every January all over the nation, including here in L.A. County. Local officials say roughly 52,765 people in Los Angeles experienced homelessness any given night in 2018, but the actual number is probably higher. That's because many people who become homeless do so for a short period of time before finding a more secure living situation.

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The Economic Roundtable estimates that overall, about 103,000 people experienced homelessness in L.A. County in 2017. For context, that's approximately how many people live in Burbank.

Some East Coast cities promise a "right to shelter," largely because of freezing winters. Nothing like that exists here in California, or for that matter in Washington, Oregon or Hawaii. That could change in the Golden State, though, as state Sen. Scott Weiner has introduced a bill that would create a "right to shelter" policy in California.

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