Without question, the news of the day is the reported 38 percent drop in Los Angeles, CA.
In a year when everything seemed to present endless challenges for the homeless and homeless advocacy community – rising unemployment, stifled state budgets, increasing homeless counts, reduction of public services, and the rest – it seemed incredible that the city with the largest homeless population in the country saw such a pronounced decrease in their numbers. The Los Angeles Continuum of Care (CoC) is a solid ten percent of the entire homeless population in the country – so any significant movement in their number would represent a notable change in the nation’s homeless population.
All to say – we definitely noticed.
And the inevitable question that rises from such a report is this: how?
Alliance staff has ruminated about the data for the last couple days. Together, we discussed the drop in the sheltered count (down by 19 percent), rental unit vacancy rates for the last five years (up by 3 percent), the unemployment rate (up by 5 percent), the Consumer Price Index (down by 4 percent), and – of course – methodology. We compared Los Angeles to New York and the nation, comparing numbers and rates and population, noting the general difficulties in counting homelessness people – especially the unsheltered (67 percent of the homeless population in LA is unsheltered.)
Of course, all these variables could play a role in determining how and why the count went down as significantly as it did. The rate of rental unit vacancies, the rate of turnover in a homeless shelter, the way the CoC decided to define and count the homeless population all affect the number.
As I’m considering this reality, I’m also reminded that this number – although telling and significant and interesting – is only one piece of information. It’s one number derived from one count on one night in one continuum of care and, by itself, certainly not enough to paint a picture of the depth and breadth of the homeless problem, even just in Los Angeles.
Because homelessness is a complex issue, one that must be contextualized with all those other elements in order to full understand and – hopefully – solve.
That being said, our heartiest congratulations and thanks to Los Angeles for their report and their leadership in this field. Many new programs in the area are being funded by the City and County of Los Angeles, and the County launched a $100 million Homeless Prevention Initiative. The CoC hosts a Permanent Supportive Housing Program, expanded Section 8 voucher programs, and has long worked to ensuring that homeless families and individuals are not only housed but also equipped with the skills and tools to pursue permanent independence. Contextualized or not, we know that ending homelessness in Los Angeles is no easy task, and commend the CoC and their partner organizations hard at work developing innovative solutions and new ideas.