L.A. County homelessness jumps a ‘staggering’ 23% as need far outpaces housing, new count shows

Los Angeles County’s homeless population has soared 23% over last year despite increasing success in placing people in housing, according to the latest annual count released Wednesday.

The sharp rise, to nearly 58,000, suggested that the pathway into homelessness continues to outpace intensifying efforts that — through rent subsidies, new construction, outreach and support services — got more than 14,000 people permanently off the streets last year.

“Staggering,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement. “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.”

Said Leslie Evans, a West Adams resident active in efforts to combat homelessness in South Los Angeles: “These are scary numbers.”

The startling jump in homelessness affected every significant demographic group, including youth, families, veterans and the chronically homeless, according to the report. Homeless officials and political leaders pointed to steadily rising housing costs and stagnant incomes as the underlying cause.

Homelessness also increased sharply in the city of Los Angeles, where the count of just over 34,000 was up 20% from 2016.

“There’s no sugarcoating the bad news,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference Wednesday where the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority released its report. “We can’t let rents double every year. I was particularly disappointed to see veteran numbers go up.”

Garcetti called homelessness a problem that has persisted “through administrations, through recessions,” adding, “Our city is in the midst of an extraordinary homelessness crisis that needs an extraordinary response. These men, these women, these children are our neighbors.”

The Homeless Services Authority linked the worsening problem to the economic stress on renters in the Los Angeles area. More than 2 million households in L.A. and Orange counties have housing costs that exceed 30% of income, according to data from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies included in the report.

According to the nonprofit California Housing Partnership Corp., median rent, adjusted for inflation, increased more than 30% from 2000 to 2015, while the median income was flat.

Currently, the median asking price for rentals countywide is $1,995 for one-bedroom apartments and $2,416 for all multifamily units, according to the real estate website Zillow.

“I am deeply concerned that over the next few years we will continue to be overwhelmed by people for whom rents are simply unsustainable,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement. She called for changes in land use and rent control regulations to boost affordable housing.

Mirroring last year’s count, only one of every four homeless people in both the city and across the county were classified as “sheltered,” meaning they were counted in an emergency shelter or longer-term transitional program. That left three of every four, or just under 43,000 countywide, living on the street.

The chronic homeless population — defined as those who have been on the streets at least a year or multiple times and suffering mental illness, addiction or physical disability — increased 20% to more than 17,000, despite increasing numbers placed into housing.