L.A. County: Homeless Population Surges by 14%

The homelessness crisis in Los Angeles County continues to worsen, as evident from the recently released point-in-time count numbers. The data reveals a distressing 14% increase in the number of unsheltered individuals compared to the previous year. 

This alarming trend follows a longer-term pattern of a growing population living on the streets, with unsheltered homelessness surging by 40% over the past five years, reaching a countywide total of 55,155 people.

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the leader of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), which conducted the count, expressed concern over the failure of various systems, including rehousing and health and human services, in effectively addressing the issue. Kellum emphasized the need for better coordination and alignment of resources to combat homelessness.

When including individuals in shelters, the count reveals that a staggering 75,518 people in L.A. County are unhoused, with 46,260 residing within the city of Los Angeles. The data was collected during a three-day count in late January, shortly after Mayor Karen Bass assumed office and declared a state of emergency on homelessness.

The homeless count distinguishes between two types of homelessness: unsheltered and sheltered. Unsheltered homelessness refers to those living outdoors in vehicles, tents, or makeshift shelters, while sheltered individuals include those residing in group shelters, transitional housing, and government or charity-funded hotels and motels.

The count shows that L.A. County has 55,155 unsheltered individuals, including 32,680 within the city of Los Angeles. Additionally, there are 20,363 people in shelters, with 13,580 within the city's boundaries. These figures combine to reveal a total unhoused population of 75,518 in L.A. County, including 46,260 within the city of Los Angeles.

Kellum stressed that people are falling into homelessness faster than they can be housed, attributing the crisis to unaffordable rents and income loss. The situation underscores the vulnerability of individuals in need and the urgent requirement for comprehensive solutions.

The annual homeless count, conducted to gather comprehensive data on the unhoused population in the L.A. area, involved volunteers counting tents and vehicles and estimating the number of people inside through in-depth surveys. Data from shelter operators was also collected to account for individuals staying indoors during the count.

Additional key findings from the count include a significant increase in the use of vehicles as dwellings (around 14,100) compared to tents or makeshift shelters (around 9,300), with van habitation experiencing a 44% surge since the previous year. While the number of sheltered individuals remained similar to last year, the overall shelter system has grown substantially since before the pandemic, providing approximately 26,000 beds. During the January count, there were at least 5,800 more beds available than the number of people seeking shelter, raising questions about the utilization of available resources.

Moreover, the count highlighted that 30% of unhoused individuals reported substance use, up from 26% the previous year, while 25% reported experiencing severe mental illness, indicating the complex and interconnected challenges faced by the homeless population.