Housing, shelter options for homeless in LA County have increased, LAHSA report says

Housing, shelter options for homeless in LA County have increased, LAHSA report says

The number of housing and shelter options available in Los Angeles County have increased in the past year, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) officials said in a briefing Wednesday, July 21.

The briefing’s mission: To release the results of an annual housing inventory count, as well as a survey of how many people were in shelters, at any given time. The latest counts were conducted on January 27.

The counts “showed some improvements and strong performance, despite the challenges that we had with COVID,” said LAHSA director Heidi Marston.

On January 27, there were 24,516 shelter beds and 33,592 permanent housing options in the system, according to the county.

A factsheet from LAHSA provides an explanation of these counts. The results of past counts can be found here.

Marston said that in order for the housing system to be balanced, there needs to be five permanent housing options available for each shelter bed.

Marston said that while there has been “a 16% increase in permanent housing options through investments like (Proposition HHH), there needs to be more investment in permanent housing, because without that people will go into shelter and they will become stuck without anywhere else to go.”

The housing inventory and shelter counts were conducted under unusual circumstances, due to the pandemic. Shelter space could not take as many people as before, because they had to be reconfigured to allow for six-feet of space between beds to allow for social distancing, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recommending that bed numbers be reduced by 50%.

There was an overall 24% increase in emergency shelter beds, fueled by programs such as Project Roomkey, which was set up through increased resources made available to allow unhoused people to shelter-in-place during the coronavirus outbreak, Marston said.

Marston said that since the count, more shelter options have also been brought online, such as “tiny homes” villages.

Marston credited the housing program for the lower than expected number of unhoused people contracting COVID-19. She pointed to a study done earlier in the pandemic projecting that 27,000 people would contract the virus.

It should be seen as a sign of success, she said, that the number of unhoused people who contracted COVID-19 more than a year into the pandemic is much lower — at 7,400.

The actions taken to address the sheltering needs were and are working, and “we need to build on that momentum,” she said.

She also noted that the system was able to scale up so quickly during the pandemic to shelter people was due to work done prior the pandemic.

Marston said that LAHSA has a “very robust rehousing system and has continued to see growth year over year in terms of resourcing.

There were a 300% increase in the number of people LAHSA prevent from becoming homeless, and there was a 74% increase in permanent housing placements, she said. Outreach teams also reached more people than ever.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without investments like Measure H,” Marston said. “We need to continue to sustain those investments and build on the momentum that we’ve created through our COVID response and even prior to that.”

Marston acknowledged, however, that homelessness has become more visible over the past year. Rules that required the unhoused to lower their tents during the day were eased during the pandemic to allow people to shelter-in-place, in accordance with public health guidelines.

“We don’t know that that correlates to more people experiencing homelessness, but no question that the homelessness crisis looks worse than it did pre COVID,” she said.

Meanwhile, Marston reiterated these systemic reasons for why people continue to fall into homelessness::

  • Incomes are stagnant and housing prices continue to rise, with Los Angeles renters need to make 2.8 times the minimum wage to afford average rent in Los Angeles;
  • A disinvestment in affordable housing, one example of which is $1 billion of redevelopment dollars that were available for affordable housing getting eliminated;
  • A disinvestment in mental health services in the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act “that ended a system-of-care that was available that was never replaced with something else;
  • Discriminatory land-use policies and a lack of tenant protections; and
  • Mass incarceration, with 60% of homeless “cycled through that system.” Marston said that it was necessary to “look at how we bring a justice lens and really reimagine how we support these individuals but not criminalize them.”