Homelessness Jumps 16% in Los Angeles, 12% Across the County

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A homeless man sleeps beside his makeshift temporary shelter in downtown Los Angeles. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Updated: 4:42 p.m.

The number of homeless people across Los Angeles County jumped 12% over the past year to nearly 59,000, with more young and old people and more families on the streets, according to the official annual count presented Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors.

The majority of the homeless people were found within the city of Los Angeles, which saw a 16% increase to 36,300. The Point-in-Time Count was done in January, and the report was presented to county supervisors Tuesday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

The increase comes after last year's tally found a slight decrease in the homeless population.

Three years ago, L.A. voters approved a tax hike and $1.2 billion housing bond to make a decade's worth of massive investments to help solve the homeless crisis. That money has been committed to build more than half of the 10,000 new housing units planned countywide over the next decade.

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Officials from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a county agency, said the same people have not remained on the streets. The agency helped 21,631 people move into permanent housing during 2018 — a pace that could rapidly end homelessness if economic pressures had not pushed thousands more into the streets.

But while some people who had been homeless managed to get permanent places to live, others who had homes were forced onto the streets of metro Los Angeles.

"People are being housed out of homelessness and falling into homelessness on a continuous basis," said Peter Lynn, the authority's executive director.

About a quarter of the people in the L.A. count became homeless for the first time in the past year, and about half of those cited economic hardship as the primary cause, the report said.

To catch up, cities need to overcome resistance to the placement of housing and shelters, officials said.

Supervisor Janice Hahn called the numbers "disheartening."

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"Even though our data shows we are housing more people than ever, it is hard to be optimistic when that progress is overwhelmed by the number of people falling into homelessness," Hahn said.

The Los Angeles County numbers mirror tallies across California, as state officials struggle to address a lack of affordable housing. In addition, officials said, wages among lower-income residents have not kept up with the rising cost of living.

Some state lawmakers on Tuesday called for legislation capping rent increases on some tenants and encouraging the construction of more affordable housing.

"We're seeing folks who are working, have jobs and are homeless. They can't afford the rent. They can't afford to live in the communities in which they've grown up their entire life. And they're being displaced," said Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, where a countywide survey this year found a 43% increase in the homeless population over the last several years.

But California tenant legislation faces persistent opposition from landlords, and other major housing bills have already sputtered this legislative session.

The Los Angeles count found a 24% increase in homeless youth, defined as people under 25, and a 7% jump in people 62 or older.

Officials estimate about 29% of people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County are mentally ill or coping with substance abuse problems.

About two-thirds of all people on the streets are male, just under one-third are female, and about 2% identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.