Cover: Recent Trends Among the Unsheltered in Three Los Angeles Neighborhoods

Recent Trends Among the Unsheltered in Three Los Angeles Neighborhoods

An Interim Report on the Los Angeles Longitudinal Enumeration and Demographic Survey (LA LEADS) Project

Published May 4, 2022

by Jason M. Ward, Rick Garvey, Sarah B. Hunter

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Research Questions

  1. How many people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and associated vehicles, tents, and makeshift structures were present in selected areas of Los Angeles between late September 2021 and January 2022?
  2. What were the demographic characteristics, histories of homelessness, housing-related experiences, and housing needs and preferences of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in these areas?

Homelessness is viewed by many as the most serious problem facing Los Angeles. Since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, there has been increased policy activity related to unsheltered homelessness. This has coincided with a lack of accurate data on the number and characteristics of unsheltered individuals due to the cancellation in early 2020 of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's annual "point-in-time" count and demographic survey. More broadly, little is known about how the population of unsheltered individuals varies over shorter intervals, and there is a significant lack of information about individuals' housing needs and preferences and their experiences with county housing provision infrastructure.

To better inform the development of effective homelessness policy, RAND researchers set out to determine the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness over the course of a year in selected areas of Los Angeles. The researchers conducted periodic counts of people, vehicles, tents, and makeshift shelters in Skid Row, Hollywood, Venice, and "Veterans Row" — areas with historically high concentrations of street homelessness or recent increases in street encampments. In addition, they conducted random surveys of a subsample of these individuals to collect data on demographics, past experiences with the housing system, and housing needs and preferences.

In this report, the researchers present results from the first four months of fieldwork. They plan to continue conducting counts and will present the full study findings in a final report.

Key Findings

  • Between late September 2021 and January 2022, the total number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and associated vehicles, tents, and makeshift structures averaged 1,358 in Skid Row, 685 in Hollywood, and 523 in Venice. Across this period, the overall number across these areas increased by around 17 percent.
  • Nearly all respondents indicated interest in receiving housing; nearly half reported previously being offered housing, and one-third indicated that they were currently on a housing waitlist.
  • Around 80 percent of respondents said that they would accept a private room in a shelter or hotel, a permanent stay in a motel- or hotel-like setting, or permanent supportive housing.
  • About half would accept interim housing with access to services, shared housing, or safe camping. Less than one-third would accept an offer of group shelter or a recovery or sober living housing offer.
  • The most commonly reported factors that prevented respondents from moving into housing in the past were never being reached to complete the housing intake process, privacy concerns, and safety concerns.
  • More than 75 percent of respondents have been continuously homeless for over a year, and more than 50 percent have been continuously homeless for more than three years. The majority of respondents resided in Los Angeles County prior to living in their current location.
  • The share of respondents identifying as Black/African American was 38 percent higher in our sample than in 2020 data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, while the share of respondents identifying as Hispanic was 24 percent lower.

Research conducted by

This research was supported through a gift from the Lowy Family Group and conducted by the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness (CHHLA), part of the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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