Officials in Los Angeles recently announced the results of the 2013 homeless count for the region, revealing that the number of Angelenos living on the streets has increased dramatically.
Every two years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandates that jurisdictions who receive federal homeless dollars count the people living on their streets. For years, the official number in Los Angeles was 84,000, giving this well-known West Coast city the dubious distinction of "Homeless Capital of America."
When HUD instituted a mandatory count in 2005--the first count that was not based on 100 percent estimates--the number was approximately 88,000 for all of Los Angeles County. Two years later, the total was 74,000. Then, in 2009 and 2011, the numbers hovered around 50,000 people. Most experts did not credit the drop from 88,000 to 50,000 to increased housing, but to better counting methods, (in other words, 50,000 was a more accurate number than 88,000).
Now, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County is over 58,000, a definite increase. And, this time, the change isn't due to more accurate counting methods.
What happened? Is Los Angeles failing in their efforts to keep people off the streets?
Some critics might blame the failed 2003 effort to design a "Ten Year Plan" to end homelessness in Los Angeles. A broad-based coalition of political and community leaders came together to create a detailed blueprint to end homelessness, but the plan was never ratified by political leaders. As a result, the plan languished and died within years of its creation.
If that plan had worked, today there would be no homelessness in the city. In theory, at least.
Others might blame the uneasy relationship between the City of Los Angeles and the County. But most large cities in America with a separate city/county system do a tenuous dance to overcome social problems.
Los Angeles is no different.
We could blame the recent economic recession, the worst in a generation, for the increase in people losing the roofs over their heads.
But, in other nearby cities, the homeless population seems to have decreased.
Like most highly public issues in this country, political and community leaders lean toward pointing fingers at others rather than rolling up their sleeves and implementing solutions.
In order to address this human tragedy, Los Angeles needs to keep their fingers in their pockets and figure out, together, how to truly resolve homelessness.
The best approach is to garner support around this region's "angels." And there are many:
The business community put together a courageous effort to end chronic and veteran homelessness called Home For Good. Now in their third year, they have made tremendous strides in housing people and changing a decades-old system of addressing homelessness.
The County of Los Angeles put together an Interdepartmental Agency on Homelessness, where county departments that directly serve people experiencing homelessness--such as those addressing mental health, substance abuse, housing, youth, and incarceration--have been meeting together to integrate their services. It has been a creative approach to overcome bureaucracy.
Smaller cities in the county, which have previously coordinated efforts to resolve regional issues like traffic and air quality, are working together to address homelessness in their region. This "Council of Governments" (COG), supported by the County, has created comprehensive plans to house people in need in its communities.
The region's Veterans Administration has worked hard with local housing authorities and private agencies to coordinate their efforts to better expedite the housing of homeless veterans. The numbers show this has resulted in a decrease in homelessness among veterans.
Organizations like the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Enterprise, United Way, Community Solutions, and local foundations have redirected their resources to emphasize permanently housing people rather than just sheltering them.
And it is working.
With a new Mayor of Los Angeles, there is hope that all of these efforts to house the most hurting people in Los Angeles will not only result in a reduction of homelessness, but the end of homelessness among those most in need.
I am sure most homelessness advocates in Los Angeles are hoping that the next count in 2015 shows that the number of people experiencing homelessness has dramatically decreased.
If the "angels" in the city have their way, and the rest of the community supports their efforts, it could very well happen.