LA County voters 'shaken and upset' about homelessness, some consider moving

Jeff Lewis/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation

This isn’t a surprise. In fact, this is pretty much unchanged from what voters said two years ago. Still, it’s worth noting that after 18 months of dealing with COVID, homelessness still ranks as the top problem according to LA County voters. What has changed, according to the same poll, is people’s patience with long term solutions to the problem:

One thing that stayed constant is that homelessness ranks as the top problem facing the region, with 94% of voters viewing homelessness as a serious or very serious problem…

Asked whether officials should focus on “short-term shelter sites” or “long-term housing for homeless people with services,” voters by 57%-30% opted for the short-term solutions. In a similarly worded question two years ago, opinions were nearly evenly divided.

A focus group was conducted along with the poll which gave respondents a chance to speak about their feelings on the issue. As in many other areas along the west coast, people don’t feel hostility toward the homeless but they do feel victimized by them to some degree:

Lawrence “Drew” Whitlock, a 66-year-old painting contractor who lives in Playa del Rey and was another of the focus group participants, expressed the frustration many voters feel. His truck and his home have been burglarized, and he had a knife pulled on him by a homeless person recently, he said.

“I don’t resent them, I want the best for them,” he said of homeless people in his neighborhood.

“I would do whatever I can reasonably to help. But it’s interfering with the quality of my life,” he said…

Voters are “shaken and upset” and many are “close to the boiling point,” said veteran pollster Peter Hart, who helped oversee the survey. “There’s not a lot of optimism.”

Many respondents to the focus group mentioned feces and urine in the streets as something that was pushing them away and making them feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods. One woman who participated in the focus group said she had moved after a fire started near a park where her kids used to play. “I am also considering moving out of the state because it’s so bad,” she said.

All of this means that homelessness will once again be a top issue in local elections. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything will change. As the NY Times pointed out in a recent video, Californians know the “right answers” to questions about homelessness, i.e. it’s caused by a lack of affordable housing, but when individual towns or cities attempt to create more dense (and thus cheaper) housing, they often get pushback from residents worried about property values. So the chances of fixing the structural issues that contribute to this don’t look good at the moment.

Then there’s the fact that the structural issues are often oversold by activists while the contribution of personal problems like drug use and alcoholism tend to be minimized. The LA Times review of the problem found that about 2/3 of the chronic homeless had drug or mental problems. And that means that even if you could snap your fingers and create more affordable housing tomorrow, it wouldn’t solve the underlying problems of a lot of the people living in Skid Row. Most of those people need permanent care that more affordable housing won’t fix.