Homelessness up 12% in LA County (an estimated 59,000 people)

LA County’s homeless population has surged over the past year according to the results of a survey released Tuesday. The LA Times reports the increase was even sharper in the city itself:

The annual point-in-time count, delivered to the Board of Supervisors, put the number of homeless people just shy of 59,000 countywide. Within the city of Los Angeles, the number soared to more than 36,000, a 16% increase.

And as in past years, most — about 75% — were living outside, fueling speculation of a growing public health crisis of rats and trash near homeless encampments downtown…

…the point-in-time count crushed the optimism from last year’s tally, when a modest decrease in homelessness was recorded. The uptick left officials struggling to understand how the tide could have turned so badly in a year when millions of dollars had been spent rolling out new initiatives to move people into shelters and permanent housing…

Board chair Janice Hahn admitted that getting chronically homeless people off the streets seems to be taking longer.

“The residents are seeing more encampments, more people sleeping on the sidewalks in dirty, unhealthy and heartbreaking conditions,” she said. “They are frustrated by this problem. We need to give people answers.”

Just to put these numbers in perspective, there are over 10 million people in LA County, so 59,000 homeless is somewhere around 0.5 percent of that population. Still, the raw number is nearly as big as the population of Santa Cruz. In fact, if the homeless in LA County were their own city, they would be the 156th largest city in California.

Of course, these are dynamic numbers. Most of these people aren’t chronic homeless who live on the street for years at a time. The County estimates that every day about 112 homeless people find a home but at the same time, about 150 people become homeless. So the numbers continue to climb even as the county spent around half a billion dollars to address the problem last year.

As this NBC LA report shows, there are really four areas of LA County where the increase has been dramatic. In downtown LA near the Staples center, homelessness is up 38 percent. In San Pedro, it’s up 45 percent. Everyone is certain the solution is more low-income housing but it’s difficult to see where you could find housing for a population so large. And that doesn’t even get into the 30% of homeless people who have mental problems or drug problems that would likely make it difficult for them to hold down a job.