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Homeless rate drops 9% in L.A., 3% in L.A. County

June 14, 2011 |  3:03 pm

Homeless and underprivileged men and women receive a free pair of shoes at the Los Angeles Mission June 6.

The number of people who are homeless on any given day in Los Angeles County has decreased about 3% in the last two years despite the recession, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

The study, conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in January, put the homeless figure at 51,430 in L.A. County, including 23,359 in the city of Los Angeles. Although the
county saw a 3% drop in its homeless population, the city of Los Angeles saw a steeper 9% decrease.

Michael Arnold, executive director for the homeless services authority, which is funded by the city and county, credited the reduction in homelessness to local efforts to prevent homelessness and rapidly re-house people. Also helping was President Obama's stimulus funding, which has allocated $52 million over three years to Los Angeles County. The program provides rent subsidies that last up to 18 months and also offers move-in assistance.

"We may be doing a little bit better at helping people," Arnold said.

Read the report: Los Angeles County Homeless Count

But he cautioned that the slow economic recovery could make these improvements in the homeless rate fragile. And the federal stimulus money runs out next year.

"This may be as good as it gets for a while. Many people are barely hanging on," Arnold said, citing those who are staying with friends or relatives -- unstable arrangements that can end in homelessness.

To qualify for federal funding to assist the homeless, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department requires communities to count their homeless populations during a given period every two years. Federal housing officials define the homeless as people living in emergency shelters and transitional housing or in places not fit for human habitation, such as sidewalks, cars, parks and abandoned buildings. People who are staying with friends or relatives are not counted.

The L.A. city-county census, which covers about 4,000 square miles, is the nation's largest. Four thousand volunteers armed with clipboards fanned out over three days in January to count the homeless in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, East and South L.A., the San Gabriel Valley, the Westside, South Bay cities, the Antelope Valley, the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita Valley.

Data released in 2009 initially pegged the homeless population of Los Angeles County at 47,865, but those numbers were widely criticized by some service providers as undercounting homeless families in the midst of the recession. Arnold released revised figures Tuesday for the 2009 count, adding 4,878 family members who received hotel and motel vouchers from the county Department of Public Social Services, which pushed the 2009 homeless figure to 52,743.

Excluding Pasadena, Long Beach and Glendale, which conduct their own counts, a breakdown of L.A. County homeless population trends shows:

-- In 2009, veterans made up 15% of the homeless population; now they make up 18%. Officials counted more older homeless veterans -- above the age of 62 -- and the very young -- between the ages of 18 and 24 -- returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

-- Authorities also saw a steep increase in the number of homeless female veterans, rising from 601 in 2009 to 909 in 2011 –- an increase of 51%. "We have a growing number who are coming back and have post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other disabilities," Arnold said.

-- The report also found that the homeless population is aging, with one in three now 55 or older. In 2009, just one in five was 55 or older.

-- There was a 9% drop in the number of homeless family members between 2009 and 2011, Arnold said.

-- One in three homeless suffer from mental illness –- higher than the national average -- and another one in three suffer from substance abuse. About one in five suffer from some type of physical disability.

Sitting on a folding chair at the corner of Fifth and San Pedro streets Tuesday morning, Eric Hill, 48, said he hasn't seen a decline in homelessness.

"I sit on this corner every day, and I see more and more new faces," said Hill, originally from Savannah, Ga., who has been living on skid row on and off for 22 years.

Arnold said he had confidence in the latest homeless population count. With more volunteers this year, he was able to send volunteers to count homeless people in 49% of the county's census tracts, up from 41% in 2009.

Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach conducted separate counts. Long Beach reported that its homeless population had increased 9% since 2009, to 4,290 people. Pasadena put its homeless figure at 1,216, a 17% increase.

Glendale counted 412 homeless people, a nearly 60% increase from 2009. But the city's homeless coordinator, Ivet Samvelyan, said the 2009 figure did not include a significant number of people who were bused to a shelter in Burbank each night during the winter months. In 2011, the city operated its own winter shelter program and counted 160 participants.


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-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration and Alexandra Zavis on skid row in downtown Los Angeles

Photo: Homeless men and women receive free shoes at the Los Angeles Mission on June 6. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times