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In LA, 5 percent of newly housed residents are already homeless again

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“We know that the transition to housing takes time"

Tent in Downtown LA
The first year in permanent housing can be a “high risk period” for formerly homeless residents.
Grzegorz Czapski | Shutterstock

With new funding trickling in from ballot measures H and HHH, Los Angeles County service providers have helped 11,370 homeless residents find permanent housing between July 2017 and March 2018.

But the city’s homeless services agency reports that 547 of those people—nearly 5 percent—are already homeless again.

“It's very discouraging,” says John Maceri, director of nonprofit The People Concern. “Hours and hours of work go into getting someone housed.”

The problem of residents returning to homelessness once they’ve found housing is a familiar one for service providers.

Usually, the process takes months. In Los Angeles, the average wait for housing ranges from 131 to 184 days, depending on the needs of each individual.

Outreach workers can’t simply place needy residents into available units. Once a candidate for housing seeks out assistance, their information gets entered into a countywide database called the Coordinated Entry System. This allows local agencies to determine which kind of housing they might qualify for and whether they’ll need supportive services at their new residence, like case management or mental healthcare.

Tescia Uribe, chief program officer at People Assisting the Homeless, says many people who end up homeless again just months after finding housing may simply need more help adjusting to life with a permanent address.

“Being on the streets is traumatic,” Uribe says. “That support is so crucial.”

With millions of dollars of new funding coming in from local and state sources, more of those supportive resources are available; but figuring out how to divvy them up is still a complicated process.

With the city of Los Angeles committed to building 10,000 units of new permanent supportive housing over the next decade, much focus has been placed on this specific type of housing, which includes on-site services ranging from addiction counseling to money management assistance.

But most homeless Angelenos won’t be placed in this type of housing. Instead, local agencies will help them acquire rental subsidies, or simply find friends or family members willing to give them a good deal on rent.

Maceri says that in those cases, it’s easier for residents to miss rental payments or relapse into drug or alcohol dependency—especially if those issues contributed to them becoming homeless in the first place.

“You can’t just take people who have been living out on the street for years and move them into housing with no support and expect them to stay put,” Maceri says.

Uribe says new funding has helped speed up the process by which people are housed, but that there are still plenty of “logistical hoops” service providers have to jump through to make sure people are connected with the resources they need to succeed longterm.

“Sometimes you almost have to watch people fail before you can help them,” she says.

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority director Peter Lynn tells Curbed that it’s not unusual to see people become homeless again in the first year after they are placed into permanent housing—a “high risk period” for residents who have often grown accustomed to living on streets and sidewalks.

According to a 2015 study from the Urban Institute, about 10 percent of families placed into housing through a rapid rehousing program returned to homelessness within a year. The percentage returning to homelessness after leaving a shelter is often higher.

Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, says the new data for LA County shows that new funds and programs are making an impact.

He acknowledges that the percentage of people becoming homeless again is still too high, but, “on the flip side, you can see that as a 95 percent success rate.”

Ko says local strategies for combatting homelessness factor in the idea that, in some cases, it may take a while for housing solutions to stick.

“We know that the transition to housing takes time,” he says, “and often a few attempts.”