‘Human tragedy’: LA homelessness jumps to record-breaking level

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles has jumped to a new record, as city officials grapple with a humanitarian crisis of proportions remarkable for a modern American metropolis.

Municipal leaders said that a recent count over several nights found 55,188homeless people living in a survey region comprising most of Los Angeles County, up more than 25% from last year. It is the highest number observed there, according to federal data that begins in 2007.

The total includes those in shelters and also those subsisting outside, who make up three-quarters of the population and can be found everywhere from the sidewalks of Skid Row to the beachside boulevards of Venice and the concrete channel of the Los Angeles river.

“It just bespeaks the human tragedy that’s been going on in Los Angeles for decades and decades,” said Philip Mangano, a former head of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which guides national policy. “There’s a certain group of Americans who have living situations closer to a third-world favela than what one would expect in the entertainment capital of the world.”

Tom Waldman, a spokesperson for the homeless services authority, confirmed that “we appear to have set a record this year”, and added that the region has the “tools and resources” to resolve it.

While national numbers for 2017 have not yet been released, until last year homelessness had trended downward in the US. But a number of states – including in the west, which has some of the highest per-capita rates of homelessness in the country – have gone the opposite direction in recent years. California’s and Washington state’s numbers have been rising; Hawai’i is up more than 30% since 2007. High rents and a low supply of affordable housing are often labeled as the main culprits.

Los Angeles does not have the most homeless people in the US. That dubious distinction belongs to New York, which tallied approximately 74,000 people last year. But New York has a “right to shelter” provision, and only a tiny proportion spend the night outside. California cities, including Los Angeles, lead the nation in the percentage of their homeless populations who reside in places not fit for human habitation – in vehicles or the tent cities that now seem a permanent feature of the local landscape.