The number of unhoused people in Long Beach is up slightly since 2022, city officials said Thursday, but Mayor Rex Richardson said he’s “encouraged” that the rate of growth has slowed and more people are accepting services.

The city’s 2023 homeless count found 3,447 people unhoused in the city, a 4.6% increase since the 2022 tally. About 53% of people counted experienced homelessness for the first time in the last year, officials said.

“While the slowdown in growth reflected in the point in time count is encouraging, we must remain focused on the urgent need to address the systemic causes of homelessness,” Richardson said. “Together, we can continue to make a difference and ensure that every member of our community has a place to call home.”

Most of the unhoused people in Long Beach are aged 25 to 64, but there were notable increases in the number of students and seniors without permanent homes, city Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy said.

The number of unhoused older adults grew from 266 in 2022 to 527 this year, and students went from 4.9% of people surveyed last year to 7.4% this year, according to a city report on the data.

One success story is veteran homelessness, which Colopy said is down by 20% thanks to a collaboration between the city, Department of Veterans Affairs and groups that support veterans.

Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy speaks behind a lectern.
Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy speaks at a press conference in which officials announced the results of the 2023 homeless count on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova

Colopy also touted the city’s efforts to find landlords who will accept rent vouchers, noting that of the 582 families that received vouchers, at least 539 of them have moved into some kind of permanent housing.

While Long Beach has historically conducted its homeless counts every two years, the city recently changed its model to an annual count, though officials skipped 2021 because of the pandemic. The 2022 tally showed a 62% increase compared with the 2020 count.

In late January, about 300 volunteers and city staff spread out across Long Beach with maps showing known encampments and other “hot spots” to ask as many unhoused people as they could to answer questions about themselves and the kinds of help they needed.

The information is used to help the city get state and federal grants for homeless programs and services, and to help city leaders decide how best to use any funding that comes in.

In 2022, the count found almost 3,300 unhoused people in the city, up from 2,034 in 2020. In every count since 2013, about two-thirds of the people counted have been unsheltered. That ratio remained about the same in 2023, with roughly 71% of people counted being unsheltered.

With the housing supply remaining tight – and for many, unaffordable – Long Beach has struggled to reduce the number of people on the streets.

The city’s full homeless count report noted that last year’s USC Casden Multifamily Forecast Report found that the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area has had among the fastest rent growth in the country, while the New York Times reported last year that Long Beach was the seventh least affordable market in the U.S. for homeowners.

Still, Long Beach has increased its temporary housing options, a process that’s been made easier thanks to the state of emergency for homelessness the City Council declared in January. Since 2020, the number of locally funded interim beds grew from 60 to 520, officials said.

A winter shelter with 81 beds opened at the former Community Hospital campus in mid-December, and as that site prepares to close at the end of the month, a new emergency shelter will open at the site of the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s former thrift store.

“Addressing the issue of homelessness is of top priority in Long Beach,” City Manager Tom Modica said. “The city is working diligently and has taken a number of meaningful actions to tackle the crisis, working across departments and collaborating with regional partners, but we know there is much more work to be done and we will remain steadfast in our efforts.”

The count’s findings don’t come as a surprise to Downtown Long Beach Alliance CEO Austin Metoyer, who sees and hears about the issue regularly from his organization’s Downtown offices.

“It’s good to hear that it didn’t jump as high as what perception might have been,” he said.

Some of the city’s strategies appear to be helping, including the new mobile access centers—vans that park where unhoused people hang out to offer help with housing, job applications and other services, Metoyer said.

Duke Givens, whose nonprofit Care Closet provides food, sleeping bags, clothes and other help to people on the streets, said the homeless count number “sounds about right” based on what he sees in the field.

It’s great that the city has created more shelter beds, and there are plenty of people in Long Beach who do care about their unhoused neighbors, he said, but it’s going to take everyone coming together to make lasting progress.

Givens praised the city’s creation of 33 tiny homes, which are now under construction at the Multi-Service Center, a hub for homeless help, and said he’d like to see more of them.

Metoyer agreed that getting roofs over people’s heads, whether short- or long-term, is the way out of the crisis.

“The next step is now making sure we have enough beds for folks and making sure we get them in quickly enough,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance.

Long Beach looks to open new homeless shelter at former Rescue Mission thrift store