Vowing to address what he called the “defining civil rights issue of our time,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas ventured into Skid Row on the final night of the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count to help estimate the number of people living on the streets or in temporary shelters.
“We are faced with a homeless crisis that is the product of decades of structural deficits in affordable housing, employment and community investment,” he said in a press conference at the Los Angeles Mission before canvassing a three-block neighborhood dotted with makeshift tents. “We can’t give up on this fight – we can’t and we won’t.”
During this year’s Count, more than 7,500 volunteers canvassed almost 2,000 census tracts spanning about 95 percent of Los Angeles County over two nights and a day. Conducted by the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), it is the most exhaustive survey of the local homeless population – second only to the US Census in size and scope.
The Count provides an estimate of the number of people staying in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as those living in places not meant for human habitation, such as vehicles, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings. The data is used to develop a better understanding of the demographics and needs of the homeless population, and to secure funding that would help them secure permanent housing and support services.
“It’s the human spirit inside of us that says, ‘Let’s help our brothers and sisters out,'” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who also volunteered for the Count along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
Last year’s Count estimated the homeless population countywide at 41,174 – a 12 percent increase from 2013. Skid Row alone accounts for almost 4,000, and 2,500 of them live within the boundaries of the Second District.
Altogether, one in three homeless persons throughout Los Angeles County can be found in the Second District.
“We must and we will confront this issue head-on if we are to make any inroads,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I am morally outraged by the statistics – that is why I feel such a sense of urgency.”
He has taken a three-pronged approach to addressing homelessness:
- Building strong and coordinated crisis response systems that are comprehensive, inclusive and evidence-informed
- Creating affordable housing with, if necessary, supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, and job training and placement, in partnership with community-based organizations
- Increasing access to income by raising wages and spurring economic development that creates jobs easily accessible through public transit
Last summer, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis to fund and create four outreach teams just for Skid Row. Composed of County health professionals, LAHSA outreach workers and formerly homeless persons, the teams try to connect the homeless to County-funded medical, mental health and substance use services and supportive housing.
The County is also funding rapid rehousing subsidies and services for homeless persons who can be connected to employment or other sources of income and become stable after a shorter period of assistance. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office has also dedicated funds for homeless women on Skid Row, to ensure they are taken off the streets and out of harm’s way as quickly as possible, and into stable housing.
The County is in the midst of preparing a comprehensive plan for addressing the crisis of homelessness, and recently held public hearings to solicit community input.