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Has historic investment reduced LA’s homeless population? We’ll know next week

2024 homeless count results will be released June 28, shedding light on push to house Angelenos

The city and county of Los Angeles made historic investments to combat homelessness this fiscal year — to the tune of $1.3 billion and $610 million respectively — which begs the question: has all this cash made a dent in the crisis?

We’ll have an answer of sorts come Friday, June 28, when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) releases the results of its 2024 Greater Los Angeles County Homeless Count.

Last year’s count saw a 9% annual jump in homelessness and a 91% increase from the previous decade, disappointing many city and county leaders who hoped to see a leveling off or drop in numbers.

Now the pressure is on to produce better results.

LAHSA has faced heavy criticism over its failure to demonstrate the impact of its spending, its lack of transparency in tracking data and its poor coordination with the city and county.

Earlier this year the Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights — which previously sued the city and county, citing their failure to address the homelessness crisis — accused the city of failing to abide by the terms of its April 2022 settlement agreement to clear encampments and create shelter beds.

I think there’s a lot more questions and scrutiny, in general, around where the billions that have been put on the table over the last couple of years to address homelessness and mental health have gone,” said Daniel Conway, who has worked on homelessness issues throughout California including as a policy advisor to the Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights.

In March, U.S. District Judge David Carter ordered a comprehensive independent audit of all homeless  programs funded by the city of Los Angeles in response to the alliance’s complaints. In February, the Board of Supervisors ordered a financial audit of LAHSA’s spending.

But despite the many concerns over L.A.’s homelessness spending, there are reasons to hope for positive change in this year’s count.

Since the 2023 count, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass has renewed her state of emergency declaration for addressing the crisis and doubled down on her signature Inside Safe program to move people living in encampments into housing. And the Board of Supervisors has followed suit, launching its own Pathway Home program in January 2023 to resolve tent and RV encampments.

“The Inside Safe and Pathway Home programs are both service intensive and seem to work well in terms of housing outcomes, so I would hope that through those two programs, the numbers would stay flat or come down a little,” said Patty St. Clair, member of the Homeless Count Advisory Board and former statistical analysis director for the USC Homeless Count team. “But who knows?”

The 2024 count took place over the course of three nights in January, when some 5,700 volunteers fanned out across the county and recorded every unsheltered person, tent and inhabited vehicle they could see. These numbers are then combined with data from a demographic survey conducted by researchers to produce insights on the size, location and characteristics of L.A.’s homeless population.

For example, the 2023 count calculated approximately 75,500 people homeless in L.A. County, including 32,000 chronically homeless people, 6,200 children, 4,700 seniors and 3,900 veterans.

The count’s results are used to drive the county’s and city’s allocation of resources to assist the homeless and determine how much federal funding Los Angeles receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The count is by no means a perfect measure of homelessness, as it only reflects a point-in-time observation and is susceptible to errors made by volunteers and technology.

“People should interpret count results as an estimate of people with an error range,” said St. Clair. “But its methodology has been consistent enough over time that it can give us a good idea of what’s going on.”

During the 2024 count, minor glitches were reported with the smartphone app used in the field by volunteer counters, which prompted the Board of Supervisors to order an audit of the count. LAHSA said these challenges did not affect the collection or storage of the data.

Paul Webster, executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights, said he’s not too focused on the results of this year’s count as even a moderate decrease won’t change the fact that homelessness in L.A. is a massive problem that has been steadily growing for over a decade.

“If we’re really going to treat this as the emergency that everybody says that it is, then let’s look at long-term data and stop making decisions based on marginal changes,” he said.

Webster believes that requires understanding how money is or isn’t being effectively used to address homelessness, which is why he is eager to see the results of the audit ordered by Judge Carter.

“If we’ve seen 10 years of things getting worse, then we need to fundamentally and radically change the way that we fund homelessness assistance programs, select our vendors and hold the people who are spending the money accountable,” he said.

Conway, policy consultant for the alliance, is excited about the audit’s results, which he believes could prompt other counties to undertake studies of their homeless spending and adapt their strategies in response.

“I think it (the audit) could start to drive a broader statewide conversation around, ‘Hey, we’re not getting what we would expect from the expenditures we’ve made so far, so now it’s time to reset’,” he said.

Last year, homelessness increased in almost every county in California, which is home to 28% of the nation’s homeless population. In 2023, California recorded more than 180,000 people experiencing homelessness, a 6% increase from a year prior and a 53% increase from a decade prior.


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