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Homelessness in L.A. County falls 3%, survey finds

But the number of homeless veterans, including younger men and women, grows.

June 15, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II and Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
  • Eric Hill says he sits on the same skid row corner every day and sees more and more new faces.
Eric Hill says he sits on the same skid row corner every day and sees more and… (Katie Falkenberg / For the…)

Homelessness on any given day in Los Angeles County has decreased about 3% in the last two years despite the lingering effects of the recession, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

But the number of homeless veterans, including younger men and women, grew.

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, which saw a 9% decrease.

Michael Arnold, executive director of the authority credited the overall reduction to local efforts to prevent homelessness and rapidly re-house people. Also helping was President Obama's stimulus funding, which allocated $52 million over three years to Los Angeles County. That money provides move-in assistance and rent subsidies that last up to 18 months.

Arnold cautioned that the slow economic recovery could hamper further progress in combating homelessness. And the federal stimulus money runs out next year.

"This may be as good as it gets for a while," Arnold said. "Many people are barely hanging on."

Homeless service providers said it was too soon to conclude that homelessness had decreased, noting that the reported drop was within the study's margin of error and based on a sampling of the homeless. "This is a best guesstimate based on a partial count and a very specific definition of homelessness," said Andy Bales, president of downtown's Union Rescue Mission.

Excluding Pasadena, Long Beach and Glendale, which conduct their own counts, L.A. County figures show that veterans account for 18% of the homeless, up from 15% in 2009. Officials counted more homeless veterans over age 62, as well as more veterans between 18 and 24 returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Authorities also saw a steep rise in the number of homeless female veterans, 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 U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department requires communities to count their homeless populations every two years to be eligible for federal assistance. Homeless people are defined as those living in emergency shelters and transitional housing, or in places not fit for human habitation, such as sidewalks, cars and abandoned buildings. People who are doubling up with friends or relatives are not counted.

The L.A. 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 conduct the count.

Data released in 2009 initially pegged the county's homeless population at 47,865, but those numbers were widely criticized by homeless services providers as understating the problem in the midst of the weak economy. Arnold released revised 2009 figures Tuesday, adding 4,878 family members who had received hotel and motel vouchers from the county, pushing the homeless figure from two years ago to 52,743.

Sitting on a folding chair at 5th and San Pedro streets Tuesday, Eric Hill, 48, said he's seen no 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 lived on skid row on and off for 22 years.

Long Beach reported that its homeless population had increased 9% to 4,290 homeless 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.

ron.lin@latimes.com

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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