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LA County Homelessness Up 6% Over Last Year

Homelessness in Los Angeles County rose by nearly 6 percent to 46,874 people over the past year, according to the results of a new homeless census released Wednesday morning.

The population of unsheltered homeless, meaning those living on the streets, in makeshift shelters or in cars, went up 11 percent over the last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 

Some areas saw even higher increases, such as the San Fernando Valley, which experienced a 35 percent jump.

"In the last year we've seen homeless people in places we've never seen them before," said Wade Trimmer, executive director of the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission based in Northridge. "I was driving the other day and behind the strip mall there must have been 30 different tents behind it."

LAHSA officials say the rise is largely an accounting issue—this year officials included  homeless youth, aged between 18 and 24, for the first time in their overall count. About 2,400 youth were added to the overall homeless number, which was 44,359 in 2015. Homeless youth are also driving the increased proportion of homeless people going without shelter, said LAHSA's executive director Peter Lynn.

Lynn said that taking the youth out of the equation would have resulted in a homelessness increase of less than 1 percent—but officials are still worried about the numbers ticking up. 

L.A.'s high poverty rate and tight housing market are making it difficult to reduce homelessness, Lynn said. But he expected promised investments in housing and programming by the county and city should reverse the upward trend soon.

"This year could start as a baseline and we really should see the impact of those investments next year," Lynn said.

Previously, L.A. County saw a 12 percent jump in the number of homeless, between 2013 and 2015.

Veteran homelessness

As for homeless veterans, of which L.A. has the largest population in the country, LAHSA said they've seen a 30 percent drop, from 4,362 to 3,071. A total of 3,812 veterans were housed in 2015, meaning either homeless veterans continue to arrive in L.A. County or that veterans who live here continue to fall into homelessness.

That's prevented the city from reaching its goal for ending veteran homelessness—a goal initially set for the end of 2015 and then bumped to summer 2016. 

"I am as disappointed as anyone when I see that we’re not able hit the goals on the timeline we would like," said Christine Margiotta, vice president of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and head of the group's veteran housing program, Home For Good. 

But, Margiotta said, the gains made have been significant: the number of homeless military veterans in L.A. has been more than cut in half in the past five years. 

"When we see significant resources invested in this issue, we start to see the needle move in the right direction," she said.

That's been true of recent investments in homeless families as well, LAHSA officials said. 

This past year, the county saw an 18 percent drop in homeless families, which they attribute to an investment in what are called "rapid rehousing" programs.  

Rapid rehousing targets people either newly homeless or on the cusp of homelessness by providing help with rent and security deposits, so that they can stabilize their situations and avoid becoming chronically homeless.

L.A. officials say more housing needed

City officials Wednesday said the rising numbers of homeless only underscores the dire need to invest in more affordable housing and units that come with supportive services, like mental health care. 

Council members representing the San Fernando Valley said homeless are moving to the area because it feels safer than more urban parts of the city.

"There’s a lot of people who quite frankly don’t want to live on Skid Row," said Councilman Mitch Englander. "I mean people move to the Valley whether it’s on the street, in a camper or in a home."

Councilman Paul Krekorian questioned whether the increase in the Valley's homeless was as high as the estimates showed, noting the numbers have fluctuated considerably over the past few years. 

Nonetheless, he said, the problem in the Valley is quite real. 

"We need to be sure that resources for addressing challenges from homelessness are not only focused on Skid Row, but in all parts of our city," Krekorian said.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has called for a nearly $9 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year, a 2 percent increase over the year prior, with $138 million pledged towards housing the homeless.

LAHSA plans to repeat the count next year.

Veterans and Military Issues Reporter
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