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Los Angeles County's homeless population down by 38%

Regional numbers are down dramatically despite the recession. One theory is that many people in trouble have opted to move away.

October 29, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa

Los Angeles County's homeless population has dropped 38% since 2007, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

The count, which was conducted over three days in January, pegs the region's homeless population at 42,694 -- down from 68,808 in 2007.

"We know that things are changing," said Michael Arnold, executive director of the homeless services authority.

"We know, we can sense, we can feel that there's a change out there. These numbers provide us with some documentation that things are really happening in Los Angeles."

Arnold said the group needs to do further analysis to understand all the reasons behind the drop, which has been mirrored in other area cities.

The numbers are striking because they come during a major economic downturn. The recession fueled concerns that more people who lost their jobs would become homeless. And although there has been an increase in clients served by charity groups, the report says the recession has not translated into more people living on the streets.

Arnold said one explanation for the drop may be that people have moved out of the region to more affordable areas. Los Angeles, he said "is a hard place to be homeless."

Arnold said migration could be particularly true for homeless families with children, who may have moved away rather than face living here in cars or on the streets. The survey shows the number of homeless family members down from 16,000 in 2007 to about 5,000 this year.

But equally important, Arnold said, is a shift in how elected officials and agencies treat the homeless.

In the last few years, the city and county have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to preventing homelessness and increasing permanent supportive housing in the region. And agencies have increasingly focused on placing homeless people in housing -- rather than, as Arnold put it, "making homelessness more comfortable."

Most of the region's homeless population is still centered in central and downtown Los Angeles, according to the survey, but the numbers there have dropped even more significantly. The "metro Los Angeles" reporting area, a swath including and immediately surrounding downtown, reports a nearly 50% drop -- from 22,030 in homeless counted in 2007 to 11,093 in 2009.

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cara.dimassa@latimes.com

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