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Backlash over report showing big drop in L.A.'s homeless population

L.A. police on skid row

An L.A. County report showing a 38% drop in the homeless population has been met with consternation by  the region’s homeless providers, who say the findings are inaccurate and could cost them funding at a time when the need is great.

The homeless providers have written op-ed articles, public letters, blog postings and tweets — all taking issue with the census, conducted over three days in January, which showed the number of homeless people in the region had dropped 68,808 in 2007 to 42,694.

The change shown in the report, by the  Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, seems puzzling to some because it comes in the midst of a recession, when people across the region have lost their homes.

“I wouldn’t call it a criticism of the count,” said David Snow, executive director of Upward Bound House, a Santa Monica-based agency that focuses on homeless families and low-income seniors. “I would say there was surprise and shock at the numbers. 

"They seem so contradictory to what we as service providers are seeing from the front lines.” Of particular issue, said several homeless providers, was a part of the survey that said the number of homeless family members was down from 16,000 in 2007 to about 5,000 this year.

“We’ve been describing an overwhelming tsunami of families” seeking services, said Andy Bales, president of Union Rescue Mission. “There’s no way that anybody who works with families would agree with [those numbers]. ... I was expecting a recant of those published numbers by now, but apparently they are going to dig in and hold on to that.”

The census was conducted in January by more than 3,000 volunteers. It was overseen by demographers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Counts were conducted in randomly selected census tracts, which included what the authority considered “hot-spot” and “non-hot-spot” areas. In addition, 16 cities conducted complete counts of all the tracts within their boundaries. In all, homeless people were counted in 754 of the 2,054 census tracts in the county, said Michael Arnold, executive director of the Homeless Services Authority.

In addition, the group did inventories of each shelter in the counted areas, on the same night that volunteers were out on the street, and made more than 28,000 phone calls to track populations that might not be counted in the street count — people living in unconverted garages. Arnold defended the count – noting that, despite the outcry, no one has found problems with the way the count was conducted.

“Really, it’s a very small number of agencies who have raised a cry, and most of them are family providers. ... I think a lot of their hue and cry is anecdotally based, not data based. They are spreading disinformation.” Since the criticism by the homeless providers, Arnold and the demographers have gone back over the numbers, he said.

But in every instance, the numbers track, he said. Arnold said that on the night of the count, family emergency shelters were 91% occupied, and family transitional housing programs were 77% full. Indeed, a drop in the population of homeless people in Los Angeles could make fundraising more difficult for some homeless providers, especially those who rely on public acknowledgment of the homeless problem as a key part of their appeals.

Snow said that donations to his organization have not flagged since the Homeless Services Authority report came out. But, he said, he worried that the report promotes a perception that homelessness has been solved -- and that, in the midst of an already difficult economic climate, “we’ll start seeing a reallocation of already diminished resources.”

-- Cara Mia DiMassa

Photo: Police on L.A.'s skid row. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (25)

I couldn't agree more. I take the metro from LAX/aviation to hollywood/Vine and I see more and more homeless people on the streets, on the metro, and in dire need. When I saw these numbers, I didn't believe it. I will be donating this holiday season.

This is ridiculous. How can any intelligent person claim that a census of this size and nature is without-a-doubt accurate? Because there's no chance that a headcount actually overlooked homeless people? It seems to me that these numbers shouldn't have even been released without someone scratching their head and wondering where they screwed up.

Forget about the survey methodology for a second, just think about the logic of it. That much of a drop in the homelessness population in this economy? Homeless providers who are taking issue with these numbers are hardly "spreading disinformation." They're talking about the evidence of their own eyes. If a service organization is seeing an increase in activity, it stands to reason that the problem isn't decreasing.

The homeless are out of control. They don't attempt to help themselves they in turn want everyone to help them. Leave them on skid row and everyone else move away. Let them rot in their own stench.

There's no drop in homelessness in Los Angeles. On the contrary, it's on the rise. I live in Hollywood and I've noticed a lot of homeless folks out here. I work and go to school in Pasadena and I've seen a rise in homeless folks out there too. When I board the Metro late night, they're on the bus trying to catch some shut eye. It's pretty sad because it can get cold on some nights. They need help and this report could take potential aid away from homeless providers trying to assist them. How could there be a big drop in homelessness? Especially during this recession and with the amount of jobs lost within the last year. It doesn't make sense.

Yet we pay $58,000 per year to house an inmate on death row..and we do not focus enough on the homeless. Families, individuals who need a chance...what is wrong with this picture?!

Can we please stop with the politically correct use of the word homeless? The majority should be called what they are....Bums, Alcoholics, Drug Addicted, Scam Artist, Thieves, Manipulative, Know How To Work The System Losers that have chosen their path and shouldn't be entitled to any taxpayer funded help. Private donations.....fine, but I would choose not to help these losers.

The only homeless that should be able to seek taxpayer funded help are the people that are not drug addicted, alcoholic losers......the poor people that are a product of this economic recession and have lost their housing due to being layed off. They are the only 'homeless' that should be helped.

When even homeless people decide California's too expensive to live in, and move elsewhere, you know there's a problem.

It's just a shame that a lot of upside down homeowners haven't caught on yet, which is why the next batch of option/alt-a ARM corrections is going to be interesting.

The numbers have always been inflated. Very few families are homeless, and if parents truly find themselves unable to provide shelter for their children then they should do the right thing by the kids and place them with relatives or social services.

Do you believe that crime is down too?

This is all about the HUGE BUDGET CUTS for the homeless agencies that are on coming. In reality, it does not matter how many homeless there are, THE MONEY IS BEING CUT!

We need to reinstate the vagrancy laws...That way they can be taken into custody and provided with the direction and help they need. They could be housed in Drunk Farms similar to the one they had in Saugus years back. This would be a last ditch effort to get these people squared away and back into the workforce where they can pay taxes again...No longer a burden on society, but actually contributing...

The number in question is less so the 2009 count, but rather the comparison of the 2009 count to the 2007 count which yields the 38% drop in homelessness. The methodology in the 2009 count differs from that used in 2007, therefore, one cannot simply compare the result of one count to the other. However, that is exactly what LAHSA did, and where much of the "hue and cry" comes from.

Both Federal and State funding to these programs should be cut or reduced.

Has Michael Arnold ever stepped into downtown Los Angeles?

What an idiot!

Wow, talk about revoking freedom of speech Mr./Ms. Moderator. I guess people are no longer entitled to one's opinion in your eyes nor are they entitled to speak the truth.

The count is just more smoke and mirrors from the powers that be. Article after article has talked about the increase in people at shelters, food banks, and aid agencies caused by the recession/depression. No one has said where all the homeless people went, and for good reason: they didn't leave. This is just another way to cut funding to the people who need it most, and allows the authorities to ramp up their criminalization of homelessness.

Cara, It's not just charitable donations that could be reduced as a result of the low homeless count, but also state and federal funding that provides the majority of funding for homeless service providers. This summer, I personally saw an increase in the number of homeless persons who were receiving public assistance at public benefit offices in Los Angeles County, which contradicts the low count. I don't know enough about the count methodology to criticize it, but a single point-in-time count in January is not an accurate way of knowning how many people are really homeless. Obviously, there are more people who become homeless over the course of a week, month, or year, than are actually homeless on a single night. Nevertheless, thank you for bringing attention to homelessness.

It's never an accurate count, homeless people not only live in the street but also in their cars. People living in their cars are just one step away from living in the street. I bet that 40 percent of homeless people are living in cars.

The City of L.A. does more for the Tourist then to help the people.The city is going to do everything in its power to get money from you, starting with parking Tickets to traffic fines.we need to help homelessness population in this bad economy we don't need No stadium the city&state is to blame.

The homeless population has not decreased it has increased. I see numerous people on a daily basis sleeping on sidewalks, under trees, freeways underpasses and bus stops. Some of these people are drug addicts and alcoholics, but many are mentally ill and disabled vets to name a few. They do not have access to medications or services that would help them get on their feet so they could be a member of society again. Why is our government doling out money to foreing nations to support people when we should be taking care of our own people here at home? Who would choose to live on the streets? These are PEOPLE!@!!!!!!

How about the thousands of folks that have been put in jail under the "Safer Cities Initiative". Our City, Mayor, and former and new Police Chief have been promoting the criminalization of our City's poor...

I don't believe it's accurate. I've never seen so many begging at gas stations and parking lots all over southern California, and... what about the housing shortage in L.A. county that was reported not long ago?

Where were they looking, just common sense will tell you with people
losing their jobs and homes, there is more out there than before.

The Census Bureau conducts many studies, this may have been one of them. The Decennial Census has not begun, it will begin April 1, 2010. The Census that determines population is conducted every ten years - years that end in zero. So - these numbers will not be the numbers that will be used to set representation, distribution of funds (CA gets hosed anyway), etc.

The report says the sheltered population increased. Much of this controversy is media driven.


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