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

Recent Trends Among the Unsheltered in Three Los Angeles Neighborhoods

An Annual Report from the Los Angeles Longitudinal Enumeration and Demographic Survey (LA LEADS) Project

Published Jan 26, 2023

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

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Research Questions

  1. How many people were experiencing unsheltered homelessness in selected areas of Los Angeles between fall 2021 and fall 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?

Los Angeles' unprecedented homelessness crisis has become the region's most serious policy problem in recent years, but little is known about trends in the size and composition of the unsheltered population, and there is a significant lack of information about the housing needs and preferences of unsheltered Angelenos and their experiences with the county housing provision infrastructure.

To better inform the development of effective homelessness policy, RAND researchers developed the Los Angeles Longitudinal Enumeration and Demographic Survey (LA LEADS) Project to document the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness over the course of a year in the Hollywood, Skid Row, and Venice neighborhoods of Los Angeles—areas with historically high concentrations of street homelessness. In addition, researchers surveyed a large subsample of these individuals to collect data on demographics, experiences with the housing system, and housing needs and preferences. In this report, the researchers present full study findings.

The findings indicate that the populations of these areas grew by an average of 18 percent from late 2021 to late 2022. Additionally, survey results indicate that most respondents have spent long periods living continuously on the streets and that the vast majority of respondents are interested in obtaining housing and indicate a willingness to come indoors for housing solutions with some level of privacy and autonomy. The researchers also assess the confluence between RAND study data and data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's (LAHSA's) annual homelessness count and demographic survey and present suggestions for improving future data collection efforts.

Key Findings

  • The total number of unsheltered people in the Hollywood, Skid Row, and Venice neighborhoods of Los Angeles increased by 18 percent from September 2021 to October 2022.
  • Although counts declined periodically over the observation period because of encampment cleanups or other clearance activities, these activities did not result in longer-term decreases in the overall levels of unsheltered people, vehicles, and encampments.
  • LA LEADS counts and the LAHSA annual point-in-time count data from late February 2022 are often consistent but in certain cases vary significantly within a given census tract or tracts. These discrepancies may be related to such factors as differences in training and experience between LA LEADS field workers and LAHSA volunteers and technical problems with LAHSA's newly introduced phone app technology.
  • Among the more than 400 unsheltered individuals surveyed, nearly 80 percent reported being continuously homeless for over a year, and 57 percent reported being continuously homeless for more than three years. About 50 percent of the sample reported a chronic health and/or mental health condition.
  • Ninety percent of respondents indicated interest in receiving housing, and 29 percent reported currently being on a wait list for housing.
  • Around 85 percent of respondents said they would accept offers of placement into permanent supportive housing, a hotel or motel, or a private shelter setting.
  • The most common reasons that respondents cited for not moving into housing were never being contacted for move-in (44 percent), lack of privacy (40 percent), housing safety (35 percent), and paperwork issues (29 percent).

Recommendations

  • Findings on the housing needs and preferences of unsheltered Angelenos suggest that policymakers should concentrate on housing solutions that incorporate privacy and autonomy and that expanding congregate shelter capacity may not be effective in reducing the unsheltered population.
  • Findings indicate that never being contacted for move-in was the number one obstacle to respondents obtaining housing. Policymakers should focus on policies that increase the frequency and quality of contact between service workers and unsheltered clients, such as minimizing encampment cleanings and other disruptive activities that occur without significant coordination with service providers. Policymakers also should address high rates of caseworker turnover and excessive caseloads.
  • To improve future data collection, LAHSA could (1) use more-specialized teams of enumerators for dense or high-profile areas of the county, (2) provide more training on accurately visually identifying individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness and cars and other vehicles used by these individuals as informal shelter, and (3) provide more guidance on the paths that volunteers should walk to cover a given census tract and avoid confusion that could result in such errors as missing one side of a street or double-counting a street in an unfamiliar area.

Research conducted by

This research was supported by the Lowy Family Group, whose generous gift supported the establishment of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness. The research was conducted by 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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