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LA County's Homeless Population Up 4 Percent, Down 23 Percent on Westside

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By Jorge Casuso

September 8, 2022 -- Los Angeles County saw more homeless people in shelters during the coronavirus emergency than ever before, contributing to a drop in Santa Monica's homeless population, according to data released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Thursday.

The 2022 Greater LA Homeless Count found 69,144 homeless persons living in the County, a 4.1 percent rise over 2020, when the last count was conducted shortly before the coronavirus shutdown.

The biggest decrease was on the Westside, which saw a 23 percent drop in the homeless population, more than double the 11 percent decrease in Santa Monica.

The Harbor region and South Los Angeles saw increases of 18 percent and 12 percent respectively, according to the census conducted in February.

The latest countywide count indicates the nation's largest homeless population is increasing at a much slower pace than before the COVID emergency, when it jumped by 25.9 percent between 2018 and 2020, LAHSA officials said.

In addition, the sudden influx of Federal and State funding for new non-congregate emergency housing, including rooms in nearly empty hotels, triggered a record hike in the County's sheltered population, which rose 12 percent to 20,596 people, according to LAHSA officials.

While the County's sheltered population jumped, the number of homeless persons living in motels and emergency shelters in Santa Monica fell by 30 percent -- from 280 to 197 ("Santa Monica's Homeless Population Drops During COVID," May 5, 2022).

The drop contributed to an overall decrease in Santa Monica's homeless population over the past two years -- from 907 to 807 -- while the number of people living on the streets remained flat, according to the City's homeless count.

City officials noted that the increase in the number of homeless persons would have been more dramatic if Los Angeles County had not boosted the number of available beds in the region.

"This added regional capacity had positive local impacts, helping to prevent a spike in the local street count," staff wrote in a report to the City Council after the results of the local count were released in early May.

But the one-time Federal and State assistance, as well as economic policies that included eviction moratoriums and rental assistance, are ending, placing the County "in a precarious position," said Molly Rysman, acting co-executive director of LAHSA.

"If these policies end, it is entirely possible that future homeless counts could show significant increases," Rysman warned. "We need those critical policies to continue.”

To prepare for the impact, Santa Monica has enacted an emergency eviction moratorium and launched a one-time program to distribute $750,000 to low-income tenants unable to pay their upcoming rent increases.

Under the emergency ordinance approved by the City Council last month, rent control tenants who receive a rent increase of more than 3 percent can defer their rent for up to five months ("Council Approves Emergency Eviction Moratorium After Heated Debate," August 24, 2022).

The “Rent Control Adjustment Relief” (RCAR) program will give priority to "very-low- and extremely-low-income households" paying more than half of their income in rent, City officials said ("Relief Program for Rent Control Tenants Kicks Off Monday," August 23, 2022).

The results of the homeless count "indicate that homelessness prevention tools like eviction moratoriums and rent support had a significant positive regional impact," said City spokesperson Constance Farrell.

"The City of Santa Monica will continue to do everything we can to keep our residents housed and to double down on the homelessness outreach strategies that work," Farrell said in a statement to The Lookout.

While the County's homeless population increased at a much slower rate during the coronavirus emergency, it became more visible due to a 17 percent increase in tents, vehicles and makeshift shelters with fewer people in them, County officials said.

"This is a result of the LA area following CDC guidance not to remove encampments, to ensure unhoused neighbors could practice social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19," a statement from the agency said. 

The 2022 countywide count found that the homeless crisis is disproportionately impacting minorities.

Black residents, who make up less than 9 percent of the County's total population, account for 30 of its homeless population, while Latinos make up 44 percent of the homeless population and 49 percent of the County's residents.

LA Councilmember Kevin de León, who chairs the Los Angeles Homelessness & Poverty Committee, said the latest count shows progress but also points "to tremendous failures in our system at all levels of government that have left important populations behind.

"To see hardworking Latinos, who comprise 50 percent of the county’s population falling into homelessness at record numbers while almost every other group sees declines is unacceptable," de León said.

County officials delayed the release of results of this year's homeless count -- which is used by cities to gauge how widespread their homeless problem is -- for two months due to "the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ("County Delays Release of Homeless Count Results," July 6, 2022).

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