Number Of Homeless In LA Continues To Rise

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Because of its entertainment industry, Los Angeles has been hailed as a center for glitz and glamour, a place where dreams come true. Yet visitors to the city often see more than dreams on the streets and sidewalks of Los Angeles.

There are homeless people laying across sidewalks, thousands of makeshift tents built under bridges and overpasses, and countless citizens huddled beneath canvas to shield themselves from the California sun.

Many Americans are unaware, but Los Angeles has a staggering homeless problem. And it’s recently gone from bad to worse. According to BBC News, the percentage of homelessness residents in LA increased by 23% in 2016. Last year ended with an estimated 46,874 people living on the streets, but so far this year that number has gone up to 58,000.

Despite recent work to find housing for homeless veterans in the city, it seems chronic homelessness is still getting worse in the City of Angeles.

“For the 31 years that I’ve been involved with homelessness,” said Ted Hayes to BBC News, “it has gotten worse, far worse, than I’ve ever seen before.”

What’s Driving the Rising Homeless Population?

Hayes is a long-time activist for the homeless in Los Angeles County. He believes one of the main causes of the increase is the gentrification of downtown LA. With housing being improved for the middle class, rental rates are increasing and leaving no affordable housing for the impoverished.

The executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, Kerry Morrison, said to BBC News that local businesses have been working toward a solution to the homeless problem. However, small businesses can only do so much when faced with their own expenses in the bustling city.

“Something is shifting right now,” said Morrison. “We’re all noticing it. We could viscerally feel that something was changing maybe about two years ago.”

The third-largest office expense behind rent and payroll for local businesses is printer and copier costs, which can add up to thousands of dollars. Even if local businesses in DTLA want to help address the homeless problem, there’s only so much they can do. Even city officials and charities are struggling to find a solution to the problem.

Alongside downtown Los Angeles’ gentrification, Morrison cites the homelessness increase to be related to a number of issues, beginning with housing costs. “The cost of housing,” she said, “is far outpacing the increase in incomes.”

The Changing Face of LA Homelessness

On top of rising rents, the influx of young adults to the city has created a new demographic in the local homeless population.A group of 7,700 volunteers compiled a count of the number of homeless people in Los Angeles over a series of three days and nights.
The survey found that the fastest growing population among the homeless are those aged 18 to 24, a group that has increased in number by 64% in recent years.

“California seems to have this allure,” Morrison said. “‘Go west and stake your claim. Make your future here.'”

Many young adults come to the city to seek a future in dance, theater, film, or for the local LGBT community. Yet many are unable to find jobs and often end up on the street because they are unable to pay the high rent. Even those who aren’t homeless are likely to end up living paycheck-to-paycheck and in extreme poverty.

Unfortunately, the number of those who are homeless in LA and Orange County may only increase over the next four years. According to 83.9 KPCC, the state of California plans to release up to 9,500 inmates from the state prison over a series of four years in order to reduce the prison population. Already without homes, without jobs, and without money, some of these now-free Americans are likely to end up impoverished and on the street.

Many Angelenos have taken to living in RVs, unable to find affordable housing or apartments. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has seen a 20% increase in RV-ownership since 2016, with 2,363 people living in the motorized homes across the city.

Yet this increase in ownership has been accompanied by an increase in RV-towing, a service which many LA tow companies are now refusing to do. In 2016, the average number of RVs towed every month totaled to 83, and for many contractors that number was just too high for what they had to deal with.

Many of the impounded RVs were flea-infested, and Americans already often spend up to $9 billion annually on flea control. Others were infested with more than insects; they were crowded with garbage and human waste. Many contractors quit, unable to handle the stench and unwilling to do the extensive work each RV would require.

“I don’t think it’s people saying they don’t like the homeless,” said LAPD detective Benjamin Jones to Mercury News about the homeless-owned RVs. “It’s the secondary effects. It’s the garbage, needles, feces, urine. They’re often overwhelmed by the odor.”

What’s Next for Homeless Services?

Ideas have been tossed around by city officials and Angelenos looking for ways to help those suffering with chronic homelessness. In Utah, a homeless program known as Housing First has proven extremely successful at helping reduce urban homelessness. While that program has expanded around the country, Los Angeles lacks the funding to initiate a similar program.

In Atlanta, Georgia, one homeless shelter found a new way to feed shelter residents. In 2016, 73% of Americans hired a professional for an outdoor project, and in Atlanta one such project consisted of an organic garden on the roof of the Metro Atlanta Task Force shelter.

The number of community gardens has increased 17% over the course of five years, and more cities are home to these urban gardening projects. Unfortunately, it’s hardly a solution to chronic homelessness.

Ultimately, Los Angeles County must find a way to not only reduce the extensive price of rent, but also stimulate job growth and potentially wages. At the same time, nonprofits and city services will require funding to address the thousands of homeless residents in the city.

“People come here to make their dreams come true,” said Christin, a 26-year-old singer living off the edge of an off-ramp, to BBC News. “I don’t think they do that so much anymore.”

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