Tackling the Crisis of Homelessness
The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority recently announced the results of the 2019 point-in-time homeless count. The numbers revealed a 13 percent increase in homelessness countywide and a 16 percent increase across the city since last year. That means 58,963 residents across LA County lack proper shelter, and 36,300 Angelenos don't have access to housing.
This rising number of homeless people in our city is alarming but is no surprise. In fact, we can see the devastating and extremely frustrating impact of homelessness in our neighborhoods each day. This spike, however, is not unique to Los Angeles. Across Southern California and throughout the state, homelessness on average rose nearly 35 percent.
Despite housing a record number of individuals this past year in Los Angeles, more than 21,631 people (40 percent of last year's population), and providing unprecedented levels of services and funding, the crisis of the lack of affordable housing and income disparity are outpacing progress and pushing more vulnerable individuals and families on to the streets. The biggest driver of people falling into homelessness is economic hardships.
What the results of the homeless count do show is that we need to focus not only on providing services to the existing homeless population but also on finding more ways to prevent families from falling into homelessness in the first place without any hope of getting back out. We can do this by focusing on making housing more affordable, addressing rising rents, preventing evictions and creating more good jobs.
Most importantly, this outcome is not going to diminish our resolve to see this crisis to an end. Instead, we are going to do even more to stop this inflow and support our vulnerable neighbors with the help they need to get back on their feet.
The Faces of Homelessness
We also want to shed some light on the true face of homelessness. We have all heard some myths and misleading generalizations about the homeless population, most commonly that homeless people are all "mentally ill criminals," "drug addicts" and "people who moved to the area from out of state" to take advantage of LA's homeless services. This year's Homeless Count confirms that these statements are far from the truth:
- Homelessness is a homegrown issue. Four out of five homeless people lived in Los Angeles before becoming homeless. Seventy-five percent had been in LA for more than 10 years and only 12 percent had been here less than a year. Homeless children attend our children's schools. Homeless mothers and fathers work alongside us and live in our communities.
- Nearly half of those counted say they became homeless due to financial hardship. More than 2 million county residents pay more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing while wages have failed to keep up with costs of living.
- Less than 27 percent of the homeless population suffers from some type of mental illness and only 15 percent are plagued by substance abuse. Los Angeles County is the government entity responsible for providing services to assist with these issues, which are being addressed with funding from Measure H, another voter mandate.
A significant percentage of homeless people have been victims of domestic violence.
- Twenty-seven percent of the population is white, while 47 percent is Latino and another 33 percent is African American.
- The homeless population is aging. There was an 8 percent increase in homeless individuals age 62 and older.
Homelessness in the Valley
Homelessness in the Valley
Homelessness has increased across the San Fernando Valley, including in Council District 2. This underscores the urgent need to bring more immediate housing solutions and services to the San Fernando Valley. The needs of Valley residents must be front and center and Councilmember Krekorian will continue to make sure that our region gets its fair share of funding for the resources and services our community needs most.
While families experiencing homelessness in the East Valley saw a decline, a growing number of our aging population and transitional youth between the ages of 18 and 24, many of whom who have aged out of the foster care system or fled unsafe homes, saw sharp increases. Victims of domestic violence also make up a significant segment of the population.
Although the Second District has only a small fraction of the city's homeless, 98 percent are living in tents and encampments in our neighborhoods because we do not have enough housing to accommodate them. This is putting a strain on our communities and our most vulnerable residents. Placing people into secure and monitored housing, where they get a bed, along with health, mental health, substance abuse, and job training services is the best way to begin turning things around.
In the city's budget, we’ve set aside more resources than ever before to build even more units of housing, and expanded supportive services to our neighborhoods and that keep streets and parks safe and clean.
This year, aided by funding from the voter-approved Measure HHH, city leaders budgeted $457 million in housing and services for the homeless this year -- the highest amount the city has ever dedicated to the issue. This includes $281 million to construct 2,126 new units of affordable and permanent supportive housing. The budget added $3 million in funding for eviction prevention and homeless prevention services. The fiscal plan also doubles the number of city crews dedicated to cleanups.
While there is progress, it is not enough. We must move faster and treat this crisis with greater urgency.
Bridging the Gap Between Streets and Homes
If we want to end homelessness in our communities, we must be willing to accept shelter and services in our communities. With only one shelter in the Valley that is well outside of Council District 2, the number of homeless people sleeping in our neighborhoods will not diminish unless we act and act fast.
The city’s A Bridge Home initiative is an emergency shelter plan designed to create temporary housing sites that will offer immediate beds, showers, mental health and addiction services, restrooms, storage facilities, and pet accommodations, as well as around-the-clock, on-site care for Angelenos who are sleeping on the street now and awaiting supportive housing or other long-term care. The initiative is a critical piece of the overall effort to build a comprehensive system that will bring all homeless Angelenos indoors. So far, the three shelter projects are open with several in the pipeline for completion.
In Council District 2, Councilmember Krekorian has instructed city staff to look at two city-owned properties to see if they can potentially accommodate bridge housing for the homeless. The properties are located in North Hollywood and Van Nuys, the neighborhoods with the district's highest concentration of homeless individuals living in them. Once city staff comes back with a report on the properties, Councilmember Krekorian will share the findings with nearby residents and seek additional input before moving forward with any bridge housing proposal. In the meantime, we will continue to search for more potential bridge housing and permanent supportive housing sites in Council District 2 that can help alleviate the homelessness crisis in the San Fernando Valley.
A Bridge Home will greatly assist in this endeavor, and compliment the work Councilmember Krekorian is already doing in Council District 2 to get people off the streets, including initiating a safe parking program, building more permanent supportive housing units, and creating a navigation center that will connect the homeless with services and a place to store their belonging.
Safe Parking in Our Community
Councilmember Krekorian initiated one of the first Safe Parking Pilot Programs on city property in the City of Los Angeles. Under the program, the LA can use city lots or partners with places of worship and local businesses to designate overnight parking locations for the homeless; thus, removing these vehicles from neighborhoods and local streets. This program is another opportunity to give homeless people a safe place to sleep for the night and get connected with services.
Increasing Access to Supportive Housing
One of the biggest drivers of homelessness in Los Angeles is the lack of available affordable and supportive housing. The city is working to build more supportive and affordable housing by dedicating hundreds of millions of Measure HHH funds to this purpose. The City of Los Angeles is aggressively seeking proposals for the development of supportive housing for homeless individuals and those at risk of homelessness throughout the City. Currently, there are 109 supportive housing projects in the pipeline, 79 of which are Measure HHH proposals that will provide a total of 5,388 units.
In Council District 2, the Crest Apartments in Van Nuys is a great example of permanent supportive housing in our community that is helping increase access to housing. Recently, the City Planning Commission approved 103 new units of affordable housing, Sun Commons. The proposed project, located in North Hollywood, will provide new low-income, permanent supportive housing for previously homeless families and at-risk youth transitioning out of foster care. And we’re seeking more proposals.
To view the city's progress on supportive housing, visit hcidla.lacity.org/hhh-progress.
Banning Barriers to Housing
Another available tool in the fight to end homelessness is increasing the effectiveness of the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, more commonly known as Section 8. Section 8 is a tool that cities use to help very low-income residents get quality, affordable housing, which helps keep them from falling into homelessness. But in Los Angeles alone, there are more than 2,700 Section 8 voucher holders who can't find a single unit to rent.
What's frustrating is that there are units available that don't get rented to voucher holders. Part of the problem is the pernicious stigma associated with Section 8 among some landlords. As a result, Angelenos in need wait years on a list to get approved for a voucher only to have the voucher expire before they can use it because they cannot find an apartment owned by a landlord willing to rent to them.
This is an issue Councilmember Krekorian believes can be fixed. That’s why he authored new legislation that outlaws discrimination against Section 8 holders in the city of Los Angeles and to find additional ways to increase the acceptance of the vouchers.
Read the LA Times article on my legislation: www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-section-8-ordinance-20190417-story.html
Rent Stabilization and Protecting Residents from Evictions
LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance protects tenants from excessive rent increases, while at the same time allowing landlords to increase rent each year by a fair amount. Tenants and landlord can learn more about what is covered under the city’s ordinance by accessing workshops hosted by the Housing and Community Investment Department. The ordinance regulates rent increases and evictions.
This year in the budget, we added $3 million in funding for eviction prevention and homeless prevention services.
Visit hcidla.lacity.org/What-is-Covered-under-the-RSO for more information about rent stabilization and evictions.
Providing Services Through Community Partnerships
We’re regularly connecting members of our homeless community with services through Homeless Connect Days. Councilmember Krekorian started this event nearly ten years ago, creating a one-stop-shop with service providers, government agency providers, and nonprofits to work together with our unsheltered and vulnerable community to provide resources and service, including health and vision screenings, haircuts, showers, case management, and other supportive services. The program now serves as a model for the rest of the city and county.
Council District 2 office is also working closely with local organizations and neighborhood councils to help neighbors in need.
The colossal task of end homelessness cannot be done without fundamental changes to more of our state and national policies that have been drivers of income inequality, created obstacles to housing and burdened everyday Americans.
In order for us to change this situation and get homeless people off the streets, we need your support. We need you to carry a positive message in conversations with your neighbors, co-workers and fellow business owners to convince them that it is in their interests to support the city's initiatives to end homelessness.
We will keep you updated on the actions we're taking to combat homelessness.