Thousands of volunteers fanned out across Los Angeles County this week for a 2023 homeless count. A new RAND survey casts doubt on the separate “point-in-time” tally.
While last year’s official homeless count found decreasing homelessness in Skid Row, Hollywood and Venice, the Santa Monica-based think tank discovered homeless populations there grew 18 percent overall, City News Service reported in the Los Angeles Daily News.
The RAND survey from September 2021 to October 2022 found homelessness rose 13 percent on Skid Row, 14.5 percent in Hollywood and 32 percent in Venice, each considered a homeless hot spot.
The Los Angeles Longitudinal Enumeration and Demographic Survey is separate from the annual point-in-time count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which expects to publish this week’s tally by spring or summer.
The LAHSA count last year found 41,980 homeless people in the city of Los Angeles, up 1.7 percent from 2020. In the county, there were 69,144 unhoused people in 2022, an increase of 4.1 percent.
This raised eyebrows across the city. After climbing nearly 23 percent in two years, regional homelessness appeared to have leveled off — increasing only 5 percent during two years of the pandemic.
Last year’s count drew criticism from city officials, including members of the City Council, who pointed to issues with accessing data related to the count and inconsistencies in communication between the agency and council districts.
Some council members called for a third-party count of Los Angeles’ homeless population and a multi-year audit of the authority’s previous counts.
In response, LAHSA announced changes for this year’s count that include a new app, and ensuring that those counting have access to paper maps and tally sheets for counts if there are issues with connecting to the internet. Agency officials said they also plan to hire a demographer and two data scientists for data analysis.
The RAND count, the largest survey of unhoused people in Los Angeles outside of the LAHSA tally, used a different method.
By zeroing in on small areas known to be heavily populated by homeless people and surveying them repeatedly over a year, the $260,000 study gleaned insight that a sprawling one-time count could not, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The RAND study found, for example, that a three-day cleanup that removed tents from Centennial Park in Venice in June was followed by a 13 percent decline in the next month’s count. The decrease was driven by fewer tents and makeshift shelters, while the number of cars, vans and RVs remained the same. By later that month, the population rebounded to its former level.
Like LAHSA, RAND found the homeless population is predominantly male and disproportionately Black. About half of respondents reported either chronic health conditions, mental health issues or both.
More than 80 percent of respondents said they would accept offers of permanent supportive housing, a hotel or motel or a shelter if it offered privacy. Only 30 percent said they would go into a group shelter and 35 percent a sober living home. The most common reasons given for resisting shelter were lack of privacy, 40 percent, and a concern over safety, 35 percent.
The RAND study found a much higher incidence of chronic homelessness. Nearly 80 percent told surveyors they had been homeless more than a year and 57 percent for more than three years.
— Dana Bartholomew