L.A. City Homeless Population Up 16 Percent; Garcetti Calls it "Heartbreaking"

 LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Mayor Eric Garcetti today called the 16 percent spike in homelessness in the city of Los Angeles “heartbreaking,” but he insisted that while the city's battle against the problem is still in its infancy it is already providing more shelter than ever before.

“Any increase in homelessness is heartbreaking, and we can see with our own eyes, on the streets of L.A. and cities across California, that the crisis has tightened its grip around the lives of too many of our neighbors,” Garcetti said in a statement in response to figures released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“These results remind us of a difficult truth: Skyrocketing rents statewide and federal disinvestment in affordable housing, combined with an epidemic of untreated trauma and mental illness, is pushing people into homelessness faster than they can be lifted out,” Garcetti said.

According to the figures from this year's count, there are about 36,300 homeless people in Los Angeles, including those living on the streets or housed in some type of shelter.

The increase follows city voters' approval in 2016 of a $1.2 billion bond measure -- Measure HHH -- aimed at building 10,000 units of supportive housing and funding other steps to address homelessness.

Garcetti said that thanks to that funding, along with Los Angeles County's quarter-cent sales tax hike approved by voters in 2017, steps are in the works to address the problem, but it will take time.

He said the city is investing $42 million to respond to public health concerns and intensify street-based services, building more than 7,000 units of housing, providing assistance to the chronically homeless and opening more than 2,000 beds to move people into shelters. 

“In the months and years to come, those investments will start making a visible difference on our streets and sidewalks,'' Garcetti said.

The mayor said he doesn't want people to think the sharp increase in homelessness means the investment isn't working.

“The Point-in-Time count brings into focus how we're still in the early days of the toughest fight of our lives, and it doesn't mean that the work to defeat the crisis has been in vain,” he said.

Councilman David Ryu, whose district covers the Hollywood Hills, said the increase in homelessness is “sobering but not surprising.” He said the city needs to step up its lobbying efforts in Sacramento to change certain laws to allow for more affordable housing.

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“The rise in homelessness here is exactly what is happening in cities across the state. This is a lopsided housing crisis that affects the working and middle class,” Ryu said. “We must take bold action to protect renters and solve our affordable housing crisis, and it won't come from bills that call for even more luxury units.”

According to the figures, roughly 9,067 homeless people in the city are sheltered, while another 27,221 are unsheltered. The city's homeless population is 67% male and 30% female, while 3% identify as transgender or gender non-conforming.

Los Angeles has a program in place called A Bridge Home, which calls for short-term living shelters to be placed throughout the city -- although vocal opposition from residents has stymied some proposed projects, such as those in Koreatown and Venice.

About $18 million is designated in the budget during the next fiscal year for four new A Bridge Home sites.

Los Angeles is expected to spend more than $457 million on homeless outreach and services this year, including services such as syringe-collecting and HIV testing, as well as increased law enforcement at the city's supportive housing complexes and two homeless-engagement teams in Skid Row, where many homeless people live. More than half the funding for those efforts come from the Measure HHH.

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