LOS ANGELES (AP) — The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County jumped 12 percent in the past two years to more than 44,000 as the region struggles with a critical lack of affordable housing, officials said Monday.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority announced the results of a biennial homeless count conducted in January that covered most of the county, along with separate counts by the cities of Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.
Most of those counted weren't staying in homeless shelters. The study also found that the number of tents, makeshift encampments and vehicles with people living in them jumped by 85 percent to around 9,500.
"California was one of the hardest hit states in the country during the economic recession, suffering high unemployment and high job losses," the housing authority said in a news release. "There is a lag in rebound and the working poor and low-income individuals have been hit particularly hard, with the trifecta of unemployment, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing."
Studies have found that Southern California has some of the highest rents in the nation and that throughout California, 1.5 million households lack access to affordable housing. The California Housing Partnership Report issued in April said that the state's lowest-income households spend two-thirds of their income on housing.
The issue of homelessness has raised new concerns with the shootings of two homeless men by Los Angeles police on March 1 on skid row and on May 5 in the Venice area.
The homeless count did find one bright spot: The number of homeless veterans dipped by 6 percent to around 4,000 in the wake of local and federal efforts efforts to get them off the streets. The city of Los Angeles alone has housed 7,500 veterans since 2013, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to house all homeless veterans in the city by the end of the year.
"Ending homelessness is one of my top priorities as mayor, and we've made significant progress," Garcetti said in a statement.
However, "we must do more," he said.
The mayor said he has expanded homeless emergency-response teams, proposed increasing the city's minimum wage and included in his budget proposal about $10 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to increase the supply of affordable housing.
A study released last month found that the city of Los Angeles spends $100 million a year to deal with homelessness — much of it on arrests and other police services — but has no coordinated approach for dealing with the problem.
Alice Callaghan, a longtime advocate for the homeless on skid row, told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1KYCV6Z ) that city leaders have failed to stop the loss of affordable housing.
"All we get from City Hall is breezy poetry — 'I will house everybody by next year.' That's absurd. There's no housing to put people in," Callaghan said. "It's very depressing. I don't think people understand how bad it is."