There are a lot more people living on the streets in Los Angeles these days, but a new study on precursors to homelessness and chronic homelessness out from Economic Roundtable, an LA-based nonprofi, has some new, even more depressing stats. The report, via the LA Times, looked at about 9 million low-income LA County residents, and found that a staggering 13,000 were "newly identified" as homeless each month. Nearly a million people—942,562—had, over the course of the nine years studied, experienced at least a period of being homeless.
The study used nine years of LA County records (2002 to 2010) for people on public assistance (e.g. people who are already poor and vulnerable) to track how many recipients fell into homelessness, whether briefly or repeatedly. They found that those who had been without a home didn't necessarily stay homeless; some found a job, cobbled together housing with relatives, or otherwise got a place to stay. But about a quarter (3,700 in an average month) were what's considered chronically homeless, meaning that they'd found themselves on the streets more than four times in the last three years. Unfortunately, the amount of people who are falling into "continuous, unremitting, chronic homelessness" is increasing despite the efforts that have managed to house about 10,000 people in the last three years.
The report points to the "multiple failures" that essentially allow people to slip into homelessness and chronic homelessness: the failures of "families, schools, social services, health and mental health care, the criminal justice system, lack of affordable housing, and a stagnant labor market." This is especially important with kids and young people, who, if they experience homelessness at these formative periods, can be at risk for falling into it again.
It's not just a matter of finding or creating housing for people on the streets, though that definitely is a part of the solution. Housing is crunched for everyone, but getting outbid on that cute Craftsman or having to get another roommate is obviously very different from what people on public assistance are dealing with. The Economic Roundtable highlights the sad lottery that is Section 8 housing, which is the main way that housing is kept affordable for low- and very-low-income renters (many of whom are disabled or seniors). Since funding for the program has declined over the last five years, "The wait for vouchers is now longer than ten years." And that's just to get the voucher: then there's the hunt to find an apartment where you can actually use the damn thing.
The study notes that in the case of helping the chronically homeless, it's important not to let the cycle of homelessness get started in the first place. It calls on public programs that interact with those on public assistance to coordinate their efforts to flag people who have a heightened potential for becoming homeless through actions like screening for disabilities in children (90 percent of which go unidentified among people on public assistance), screening adults for their mental and behavioral health needs, and, in general, working to connect at-risk people with the services they need more quickly.
· ALL ALONE: Antecedents of Chronic Homelessness [Economic Roundtable]
· 13,000 fall into homelessness every month, report says [LAT]
· As rents spike, hard-to-get housing vouchers become hard-to-use [SCPR]
· A Lot More People Are Homeless in Los Angeles These Days [Curbed LA]