Staggering homeless count stuns LA officials

Article Image

CNN's Stephanie Elam reports on the increase in homelessness in Los Angeles, which is up over 16% citywide since last year.

Posted: Jun 6, 2019 9:39 AM


The stunning increase in homelessness announced in Los Angeles this week — up 16% over last year citywide — was an almost incomprehensible conundrum given the nation's booming economy and the hundreds of millions of dollars that city, county and state officials have directed toward the problem.

But the homelessness crisis gripping Los Angeles is one that has been many years in the making with no easy fix. It is a problem driven by an array of complex factors, including rising rents, a staggering shortage of affordable housing units, resistance to new shelters and housing developments in suburban neighborhoods, and, above all, the lack of a cohesive safety net for thousands of people struggling with mental health problems, addiction and, in some cases, recent exits from the criminal justice system that have left them with no other options beyond living on the streets.

"It is the height of contradiction that in the midst of great prosperity across the Golden State, we are also seeing unprecedented increases in homelessness," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a key proponent of the 2017 county sales tax known as Measure H that is raising about $355 million annually for homelessness services over ten years.

"This data is stunning from the perspective that we had hoped that things would be trending differently, but we will not ignore our realities," Ridley-Thomas said after the numbers were released. "No one can ignore the income insecurity, the financial stress that is being experienced throughout the population. ... This is a state that is the wealthiest in the nation, and, at the same time, it is the most impoverished."

The new homeless count released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed nearly 59,000 people living in the streets across Los Angeles County, a 12% increase over the prior year; and 36,300 homeless people within the city limits of LA, a 16% increase over last year's count.

While those figures were shocking to many Americans who view Los Angeles mainly as a city of glittering wealth, they came as less of a surprise to millions of Angelenos.

For several years now, the city's residents have watched tent encampments spring up far beyond the downtown area known as Skid Row -- where LA's homeless population and services have historically been concentrated -- to their neighborhood sidewalks, freeway embankments, city and county parks, along business corridors and into some of the most affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Beyond the well-being of the city's homeless population, the encampments have raised a broad array of public heath and safety concerns. Los Angeles Fire Department officials determined, for example, that the massive Skirball blaze that burned homes in Bel-Air and torched the hillsides along the 405 freeway in December 2017 was sparked by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment nearby.

In and around Skid Row, scores of business owners who warehouse their goods in that industrial area downtown have pressed the city to do more about the rising number of tent fires. In one of the most frightening developments, some of the fires are being lit by gang members who try to collect rent from tent-dwellers on certain blocks, according to law enforcement officials and homeless people living in tents interviewed by CNN.

Many homelessness advocates and officials interviewed by CNN over the past year are also worried that the proliferation of tents has made it far easier for gang members and other criminals to conceal human trafficking and drug trafficking, particularly in Skid Row where the trash along the streets is littered with used needles, a glaring public health hazard.

Though the city does routine cleanups in Skid Row and in other parts of the city, trash from abandoned encampments is a constant eyesore, littered across freeway exits and under bridges. In part because of the public health hazards, the cleanups in Skid Row are carried out with military precision. Advance notice is posted for the homeless residents who live on that block to move their tents so the streets can be cleared of trash, swept by massive street sweepers, and then sprayed down with disinfectant in workers wearing white Hazmat suits. Clothing and trash piled up along the corridors in other parts of the city sometimes takes weeks to get cleaned up.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who campaigned intensively for the city initiative known as Proposition HHH that designated $1.2 billion over the next 10 years for units to house the homeless, described homelessness in an interview with CNN as "the biggest heartbreak for me and my city." The crisis was widely viewed as the central reason Garcetti decided not run for president in 2020.

During a kickoff event in March 2018 for a project that aimed to end homelessness for about 45,000 people, Garcetti launched what amounted to a citywide campaign to encourage Angelenos to welcome more shelters and affordable housing in their neighborhoods.

"We can't arrest our way out of this. We can't shelter our way out of this. We have to house our way out of this," Garcetti told reporters then.

In a budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was seeking $1 billion to address the state's homelessness crisis. The governor tapped Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg to co-chair his Homeless and Supportive Housing Advisory Task Force to help guide local jurisdictions on the best ways to spend the money (either on supportive housing or more innovative approaches like motel conversions).

The new report this had one glimmer of hope: statistics showed that the better-equipped city/county homeless crisis response system helped move 21,631 people into permanent housing last year.

But the housing money has flowed slowly. And while that housing figure was viewed as progress, Garcetti has run into major resistance even with his attempt to convince each of the city's 15 council districts to approve a temporary shelter.

At a public forum in Venice on LA's west side last October, Garcetti faced shouting protests and catcalls over the course of four hours as he tried to convince residents to support opening a shelter in a vacant lot as part of his "Bridge Home" project. The neighborhood's residents cited concerns about crime, disruption, trash and needles that are already a problem in their streets.

This week faced with the grim numbers, the LA mayor vowed to carry on.

"We cannot let a set of difficult numbers discourage us or weaken our resolve," Garcetti said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34211

Reported Deaths: 2125
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9761576
Lake3573186
Allen160069
Cass15877
St. Joseph126634
Elkhart126228
Hendricks116671
Hamilton115493
Johnson1097108
Madison58659
Porter53428
Bartholomew50834
Clark49741
LaPorte43023
Howard40428
Tippecanoe3933
Delaware38536
Jackson3821
Shelby37122
Hancock33127
Floyd31839
Boone31635
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2662
Montgomery23817
White2338
Noble22821
Clinton2271
Decatur22431
Grant21022
Dubois1993
Harrison19422
Henry17211
Greene16924
Vigo1688
Dearborn16821
Monroe16712
Warrick16628
Lawrence15924
Miami1401
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Kosciusko1271
Orange12622
Scott1193
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Marshall1021
Carroll932
Daviess8516
Steuben832
Wayne785
Fayette777
Newton7710
Wabash772
LaGrange762
Jasper661
Washington521
Clay511
Jay500
Fulton491
Randolph473
Rush462
Pulaski460
Jefferson451
Whitley413
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan351
Owen341
Brown331
Perry320
Wells310
Benton300
Knox280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Blackford252
Crawford240
Fountain212
Switzerland200
Spencer201
Parke170
Adams171
Posey160
Gibson152
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0167

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35033

Reported Deaths: 2149
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin5773260
Cuyahoga4369226
Marion266028
Hamilton2642148
Lucas2241242
Pickaway205037
Mahoning1428174
Summit1390172
Butler87429
Columbiana74352
Stark72391
Lorain67859
Montgomery65616
Trumbull56948
Belmont42812
Warren36621
Miami35530
Tuscarawas3423
Ashtabula33834
Medina33723
Delaware33113
Portage32357
Lake30612
Wood28746
Geauga28232
Clark2776
Wayne27250
Fairfield2596
Licking24310
Allen21132
Mercer2107
Clermont2065
Richland1993
Erie17114
Darke16721
Madison1527
Washington11819
Crawford1144
Morrow1071
Greene1015
Ottawa9916
Putnam9114
Monroe7812
Auglaize733
Sandusky7311
Ross712
Hocking694
Jefferson672
Hardin600
Huron571
Williams541
Union511
Muskingum500
Hancock501
Clinton431
Shelby413
Wyandot402
Fulton400
Fayette400
Logan380
Coshocton380
Guernsey351
Preble351
Holmes341
Defiance332
Lawrence300
Carroll303
Brown281
Champaign271
Knox251
Highland231
Vinton212
Seneca202
Ashland200
Athens181
Perry181
Henry150
Scioto150
Paulding140
Jackson140
Harrison100
Adams91
Gallia91
Van Wert60
Pike60
Meigs60
Noble60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 54°
Angola
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 52°
Huntington
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 52°
Decatur
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 54°
Van Wert
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 54°
Sunny Sunday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events