The 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count began on Tuesday, with millions of dollars of federal and state funding depending on the final count number, as well as contributing to the next steps where Mayor Karen Bass’ homeless initiatives are to be developed next.
The count, usually conducted annually every January by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), came in at 66,436 homeless throughout the County in 2020, was canceled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then counted 69,144 homeless in Los Angeles County in 2022, with 41,980 being county in the city of Los Angeles alone. The rise in homeless in the last several years, attributed to a higher cost of living, post-COVID complications, and economic concerns, has been predicted by many to rise again this year due to worsening cost of living and affordable housing issues, COVID housing fund deadlines approaching, and the end of eviction moratoriums. LAHSA officials even noted that the count could be significantly higher in the coming years due to these factors.
Because homelessness is a lagging indicator, it is possible that future homeless counts could show significant increases,” noted LAHSA co-executive Director Kristina Dixon on Monday.
For the city of Los Angeles, the count will not only help determine how much state and federal funding will be going to Los Angeles in the near future, but also determine where the city is to go next in getting rid of homelessness in the city. Following Mayor Bass being inaugurated as Mayor last month, she has made homelessness her top priority in LA. In just over a month as Mayor, Bass has declared the homeless situation in the city a state of emergency, started the Inside Safe Program to clear encampments and put the homeless into motels (much to the chagrin of many owners), as well as multiple other programs aimed at housing and removing the homeless off the street.
While her overall plan aims to significantly reduce homeless throughout the decade and the all but stated goal of significantly reducing it in time for the 2028 Olympics, Bass’ plan has already hit many hurdles, with her early actions unlikely to reduce a significant number of homeless from being counted this week. Now, with all eyes on the count, LAHSA will conduct a coordinated count throughout the next several days, including counting the homeless in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys on Tuesday, West and East Los Angeles on Wednesday, and Thursday in South Los Angeles, the Central city and the Antelope Valley.
“We want to make sure that we have the most accurate count,” said LAHSA commission Chairwoman Wendy Greuel on Tuesday. “Oftentimes, our funding is determined upon the count, where we know exactly what kind of services are needed, in what geographic area. So it’s a really important number. We never really know what is going to happen.”
Regardless of the final count, many homeless services workers have continued to remain skeptical of what the funding could bring, as they note that short-term and “band-aid” solutions are being used rather than a more longer-term approach.
“The ideal system would be a series of steps,” explained “Regina”, a homeless services worker in Southern California to the Globe on Tuesday. “First you need to determine if they need housing now. Then, with temporary shelter, you need to see if they can work, if they can’t work, or if they need help first due to medical issues, mental issues, or other things like drug use. Once determined they can work, put them up to job training or looking for work. After that, make sure they have all the skills they need to live on their own, then get them permanent housing. It can take awhile, sometimes many years, and it’s easier said than done, and you need to back it all up with funding and housing, but that’s been found to be the best system in the US. We’re not like the UK where people can live off of benefits for years, but we’re also not a third world country where we leave you high and dry either.
“This count will tell us how much better or worse the problem is, as well as help shore in funding, but on count days no one is really happy. We hope to get more funding out of it, but we all know that it will take time, and what it usually goes towards is short term or emergency housing and not anything else that’s needed.”
The Count is expected to continue on through Thursday, with a final tally expected shortly afterwards.
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