While Long Beach may have seen its homeless population decline over the past two years the rest of the county did not experience the same outcome as a county-wide homeless homeless count released today showed a 23 percent spike in Los Angeles County.
According to the report released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the county saw its homeless population grow from 46,874 in 2016 to 57,794 this year. That jump stands in stark contrast to the 21 percent decline reported by Long Beach when it released its figures in April.
All service planning areas of the county saw increases of some sort with Antelope Valley (+50 percent), East LA County (+50 percent), San Gabriel Valley (+31 percent) and Metro Los Angeles (+30 percent) experiencing the largest increases of its homeless populations.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the county’s fourth district which includes Long Beach, called today’s revelations staggering. Hahn’s district experienced the smallest growth in its homeless population with just a 10 percent increase over 2016.
“Homelessness in LA County has grown at a shocking rate,” Hahn said in a statement. “Even as work is being done to get thousands of people off the street and into housing, more and more people are becoming homeless. It is clear that if we are going to end the homeless crisis, we need to stem the overwhelming tide of people falling into homelessness.”
Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that the rising crisis of homelessness in the county could be attributed to the soaring housing costs with many more people slipping into homelessness because they simply cannot afford to keep a roof over their heads.
A combination of vacancy rates in the region dwindling in the low single digits and an influx of luxury developments have led to a surge of rental increases, some of which have displaced residents to neighboring, cheaper cities or worse; living on the streets.
Kuehl acknowledged that the root of the issue may have been due to mental illness, but with those numbers declining it now lies at the feet of the economic imbalance of the housing market.
“I want to challenge my colleagues at all levels of government to squarely face the realities of our housing market,” Kuehl said in a statement. “For far too long policymakers nationally, in the state, and locally have prioritized real estate profit over a healthy housing market. Weak housing and rent control regulation combined with short-sighted land use planning has turned LA County into the most unaffordable place to live in the entire country.”
The work being done and future projects in the pipeline will be funded in part by Measure H, a voter-approved ballot measure that is expected to generate over $355 million annually through a quarter-cent sales tax hike over the next decade.
The funds gathered through the tax will not be completely paid out proportionally with the bulk of the money going to areas with the most need. How that could impact Long Beach, which won’t pay into the tax until year six due to state caps on local sales tax increases, is not immediately clear.
Mayor Robert Garcia, who campaigned on behalf of Measure H earlier this year, said that he still anticipates a good amount of funding to find its way to Long Beach.
“The numbers were always estimates but we’re confident that we’ll still have significant resources from Measure H,” Garcia said. “What will come down from Measure H will double what we’re currently spending today, and that’s in light of the current count numbers and we’re very thankful for having the support of the voters and we’re just anxious to get those dollars in so we can get people housed and get more services to people who are suffering from mental illness.”
Long Beach Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy said that the revenue from Measure H was outlined and earmarked for distribution by a committee of 50 people representing various agencies across the county which included Colopy advocating for the city. She said that 19 different strategies were outlined, of which all were granted a certain amount of dollars once the funding from Measure H begins to be captured in October 2017. A vote by the county supervisors to finalize funding distribution for year one of Measure H payments to county and municipal providers of homeless services is expected to take place June 13.
Colopy said the figures used to determine the amount of funding each region would receive were based on 2016 numbers—2015 for Long Beach since its homeless count is biannual—which at the time showed Long Beach as having about five percent of the county's homeless population. Long Beach stood at about four percent of the population after it released its numbers last month showing the 21 percent decline, but could now represent an even smaller percentage of the county's homeless population after Wednesday's release.
"I don't know how that will impact how they choose to distribute funds," Colopy said.
The city and county have taken strides to improve Long Beach’s network of services that may have attributed to its reported decrease over the last year. Recent votes by the Long Beach City Council and the Board of Supervisors have expanded access to the city’s winter shelter through Fall of 2017, allocated funds for mental health facilities to open in the city and more recently, declined a challenge to the opening and operation of a mental health urgent care center in Long Beach.
To combat housing issues, the city has taken various steps to combat its housing affordability issues. Earlier this month the council adopted policy changes that it thinks will improve its ability to attract affordable housing developers and in March it initiated a study to explore how it could limit units that could be otherwise rented from ending up on short-term rental sites like Air BNB and further diminishing available housing stock.
Long Beach has seen its homeless population dip from 2,345 in 2015’s count to 1,863 this year. The 2017 figures represent a decrease of nearly 1,000 sheltered or unsheltered homeless persons since the 2013 annual homeless count figures were released. However, work remains to be done.
Garcia said that while Long Beach's housing-first approach to its homeless population has contributed to its recent success, especially among the veteran popuplation, the state as a whole faces a simple math problem: there are more people than it can house. While Long Beach has ramped up housing developments—mostly in the downtown and central portions of the city in areas that have not been completely built out the mayor seemed to agree with Kuehl’s conclusion that housing is now the core cause of the growing homeless crisis.
“The challenge is still real and even though the data may be pointing us in the right direction in Long Beach, this is a statewide crisis and I think we have to be honest with ourselves and address the challenge,” Garcia said.