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LA leads in homelessness


The Los Angeles area led the nation for a second year in a row in the number of chronically homeless individuals, according federal rankings.

The 12,970 chronically homeless people living alone on the streets of Los Angeles and surrounding cities is up from the previous year’s 12,356 chronically homeless individuals, according to figures provided in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual reports to Congress on homelessness.

Those who are chronically homeless are often the toughest for service providers to help, and need housing arrangements that have onsite mental and physical heath services, and drug counseling.

A “very robust intervention,” sometimes sustained over several years, is needed to serve this segment of the homeless population, according to HUD spokesman Ed Cabrera.

A chronically homeless person is defined as someone with a disability who has been homeless for at least a year, or for four times over the past three years for a total time of at least 12 months.

Cabrera said that in Los Angeles, “we’ve seen the numbers go in the wrong direction on the chronic homelessness side,” while there has been a sharp drop in homelessness among veterans.

The number of homeless veterans is at 2,728, down 57 percent from 2010, Cabrera said.

“Veterans have a lot more broad-based support by communities and stakeholders on this issue, so I think that’s resulted in a … record amount of decline,” Cabrera said.

Section 8 vouchers and supportive services have been made available to veterans through funding from the federal government, Cabrera said.

“These federal investments show that with a targeted, proven intervention you can continue to drive homelessness numbers down and keep them down,” Cabrera said.

“We haven’t had that same luxury on the chronically homeless front.”

Many of the homeless veterans also fit the criteria of being chronically homeless, he said.

While chronic homelessness continues to be prevalent in Los Angeles among individuals, the population of chronically homeless people who are part of families shrank from 1,817 people last year to 498 this year.

Peter Lynn, executive director for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said this may be because “the focus area has been on getting families into permanent supportive housing.”

The increase in chronically homeless individuals, meanwhile, “represents a certain amount of inflow of people becoming chronically homeless,” Lynn said.

The fact that there is a “large population of unsheltered” homeless individuals in Los Angeles “may well play a role in people experiencing chronic homelessness,” Lynn said.

The idea is to get people “off the streets and into housing as fast as possible so that health conditions don’t become chronic conditions,” Lynn said.

One reason there has been success in reducing homelessness among veterans is that they have access to health care and services, he said.

While chronically homeless individuals may be signing up for health insurance, they still often do not have easy access to clinics where they willactually put their insurance coverage to use.

Cabrera said the recently approved $1.2 billion bond measure, Proposition HHH, to pay for the construction of permanent supportive housing could prove to be a “significant investment” toward helping the chronically homeless.

That amount of money is “almost what HUD invests nationally,” he said.

Lynn said the measure is expected to increase the number of permanent supportive housing unit construction from 300 to 1,000 units a year.

Lynn said that there needs to be a corresponding investment in services to go along with this increase in housing stock, so there is need for “the federal government to invest similar resources that they have on veterans.”

This year’s annual report on homelessness to Congress shows the nationwide homeless population decreasing 14 percent to 549,928, since 2010, but Los Angeles saw its homeless population increasing 32 percent over the same period.

Lynn said Los Angeles may be following a trend seen in other major cities, with the high housing costs playing “a significant role in people becoming homeless, and of course, people becoming chronically homeless.”

The figures for the Los Angeles area are for its continuum of care, the local planning body responsible for coordinating the full range of homelessness services in a geographic area. The Los Angeles Continuum of Care consists of all of Los Angeles County except for Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.