The Los Angeles Times had a story Friday with the headline, “L.A. spent $619 million on homelessness last year. Has it made a difference?”
The short answer seems to be: not really.
The money has been spent on rent subsidies, shelter beds, drug and mental health counseling and other services. Los Angeles County says 27,000 homeless people were placed in permanent housing over the last 18 months, but LA advocates for the homeless said some of those people may be back on the streets.
A $77 million Los Angeles shelter expansion project has so far yielded just 147 beds – at a cost of about $524,000 each.
The head of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said the problem cannot be fundamentally addressed until the county creates more affordable housing.
There have been double-digit increases in homelessness in the counties neighboring Los Angeles. Like the Joads, they keep coming, from Stockton and Merced and Fresno.
There were an estimated 53,000 homeless people in LA County last year, with a population of about 10 million. While the homeless number seems big – it is big – it amounts to just over half of 1% of the population. As far as its magnitude, it appears that in La Plata County, for example, about 0.2% of the population has been identified as homeless. That number is likely even lower in Montezuma County. Numbers are hard to calibrate, but somewhere just under 0.2% of the U.S. population seems to be homeless.
The head of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said the problem cannot be fundamentally addressed until the county, and presumably the region, creates more affordable housing. Most people who do not invest in real estate would probably agree that there ought to be more affordable housing everywhere. Subsidies, vouchers and incentives for developers can do some good at some taxpayer cost. But as things stand, housing costs are subject to market forces that local government can no more control in Los Angeles than in Durango – which means the problem probably is not going away anywhere any time soon.
Correction: We originally said the head of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Peter Lynn, cited “in-flow” as a problem, but we mischaracterized what Lynn meant. “He meant that more people are falling into homelessness because of an affordable housing crisis, not because unhoused people are coming from outside the county,” Sam Fox, an authority spokesman, subsequently told us.