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A city sidewalk at dawn is crowded with tents.

Understanding L.A.’s Homelessness Issues


Journalist Ethan Ward recently outlined the origins and extent of Los Angeles’s growing population of people who are homeless or unhoused. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA)’s last annual count in 2019 (2020’s and 2021’s counts were canceled due to COVID-19, but the number has certainly risen), there are at least 63,706 people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County. While Ward acknowledges that the problem is overwhelming and complicated, with no clear solution, he also traces the many factors that feed into it, including “poverty, lack of affordable housing, employment discrimination, substance abuse or mental health challenges, LGBTQ+ kids who are rejected by their family, domestic violence, lack of familial ties, and kids who age out of foster care.


According to LAHSA, the lead agency in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care that coordinates housing and services for homeless families and individuals in L.A. County, the rise in homelessness here is a result of stagnant income, rising housing prices, lack of investment in mental health services, lack of tenant protections, and discriminatory land use. Another major factor is mass incarceration. LAHSA found that 60 percent of L.A.’s homeless population has cycled through the criminal justice system.”


The UCLA Luskin Center for History and Poverty reported that the reason many people with mental health issues end up homeless can be traced to the deinstitutionalization of mental health care in the 1980s that began by closing down mental health facilities and hospitals. Although it was in part inspired by outcries against poor conditions in these facilities, the result was that many patients were thrown out onto the street and there simply are not enough services for mental health care. Even in 2005, several L.A. hospitals admitted that they were discharging unhoused mental patients to the streets with no follow-up care. Without needed care and facing laws that criminalize poverty and sleeping in public places, many people who are homeless end up in jail. As a consequence, the L.A. County Jail has now become the largest mental health facility in the United States, according to the Luskin report.


For more details and statistics about homelessness in Los Angles, read Ward’s story here.

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