Homelessness is rising in Los Angeles, but not nearly as fast as the calls to the city complaining about it.
According to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, released this month, the homeless population in the City of Los Angeles increased by 14.2% from last year, to 41,290. During that same period, requests made to the city’s MyLA311 service about homeless encampments rose by 30%.
Homeless encampment calls have risen significantly over the last five years, from less than 15,000 in 2016 to over 55,000 calls in 2019, more than the actual number of people experiencing homelessness in the city.
Rise in calls about encampments (Jan.-March) vs. growth of homeless population
Calls to the 311 service are not likely to do much about the underlying problem. At best, they might prompt the city to perform a cleanup. Calling 311 about homeless encampments results in the complaint being directed to the Department of Sanitation. The department then verifies whether the encampment exists within city limits, before putting up a sign alerting people that a cleanup might occur. If the cleanup is approved by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, sanitation workers remove debris and clean up the area, which can result in police showing up as well.
Numerous studies on the city’s homeless crisis point to the high cost of housing in Los Angeles as the chief driver. According to a study by Economic Roundtable, almost 600,000 Angelenos spent 90% or more of their income on housing in 2018.
Those problems will not be solved by a 311 call.
Annual number of complaints to 311 service about homeless encampments
Andrew Silver, who serves on the North Hollywood Housing Alliance’s Housing Advocacy Table, said that in his neighborhood of Studio City, people often feel overwhelmed by the problem.
“In general, the attitude toward the homeless is fear and frustration,” said Silver.
Silver recommends volunteering with a local organization rather than calling 311, or calling the LA Homeless Outreach Portal, which dispatches an outreach worker to the location who can build trust with the person who lives there and offer assistance.
Though there have been numerous efforts to address the housing crisis, such as new shelters and permanent housing units, the pace is simply not enough to keep up with the number of people who fall into homelessness. According to the LAHSA, an average of 207 people emerge from homelessness every day, but 227 become homeless.
Two-thirds of the unsheltered people experiencing homelessness became homeless for the first time last year, with most attributing the cause to economic hardship.
In the first three months of 2020, Woodland Hills was the neighborhood with the most service calls. In the 2019 homeless count, Woodland Hills had 111 unsheltered homeless people.
(Neighborhood-level data from the 2020 count is not yet available.) The 905 calls represented a 333% increase from the first quarter of 2019.
How we did it: We compared yearly totals from recent LAHSA homelessness counts with the MyLA 311 call data. Want to know how your neighborhood fares? Or simply just interested in our data? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.