At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, much of the discussion was on either public safety or the city’s response to the homeless crisis. Councilmember Oscar de la Torre wanted assurances that the city’s regional partners in the County, Malibu and the City of Los Angeles were doing their part. On our first What’s Next podcast, Councilmember Jesse Zwick warned that the homeless crisis is a regional one, and while Santa Monica can do its part and even lead on the issue, most of the solutions are regional and not local.
Yesterday, L.A. County released the results of its annual homeless count conducted earlier this year. Regionally, the count showed a nine percent increase, with the largest spike, both in net numbers and percent, coming in the “West” service planning area that includes Santa Monica, Malibu and West Los Angeles. The West AArea saw a 45% increase from the previous year from 4,604 people experiencing homelessness to 6,669 this year.
Santa Monica released the results of its homeless count in early May. It showed a 15% increase in people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica over the same time period as the regional count.
In its press release, the Los Angeles (County) Homeless Services Authority tries to spin the increase as good news, or at worst part of a national trend.
“While this year’s increases are slightly lower than previous year-over-year increases in the homeless count, they continue a steady growth trend of people experiencing homelessness in the annual Point-in-Time Count (PIT Count).
The rise in LA County’s homeless population coincides with increases in major cities across the United States. Chicago and Portland saw double-digit increases (+57% and +20% respectively), while several Southern California counties experienced increases larger than Los Angeles, including San Bernadino (+26%), San Diego (+22%), Kern (+22%), and Riverside (+12%).”
But few have taken up that mantra. News coverage, both local and regional, has been uniformly negative…and for good reason. Regionally the increase has been steady over the last half decade and has grown 40% in that time.
While there has been much hand wringing in the press over these resluts, one of the main causes of homelessness in a region has been overlooked: the rent is still too damn high.
A 2022 report in the Washington Post draws a straight line between high rent and high numbers of people experiencing homelessness. As illustrated below, one can see the direct correlation between rent and homelessness in major American cities. Los Angeles is second highest in the country in the cost of rent and 4th highest with the number of people experiencing homelessness.
To make matters worse, over the past quarter of a century, the cost of rent is growing at over three times the rate of wage growth in Los Angeles County.
Unfortunately, despite the visible increase in enforcement of nuisance and camping ordinances and outreach efforts to those experiencing homelessness; it is likely that the numbers will continue to increase with next year’s count. Many renters protections that were put in place during the pandemic have begun to expire, and more will in the coming months.