Downtown Los Angeles has been notorious for being a haven for thousands of the area’s homeless residents. However, having recently relocated to the city and not living that far from downtown I must say that when I venture downtown I don’t see an area overflowing with homeless people. And now, thanks to a new survey conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, I have facts to go with my anecdotal observation.
Despite California seemingly not having a roll of pennies to its name, the population in LA County has dropped 38% since 2007. The count, conducted over three days in January, has the region’s homeless population at 42, 694, down from 68, 808 in 2007.
Michael Arnold, executive director of the authority, told the Los Angeles Times: “We know that things are changing. “We know, we can sense, we can feel that there’s a change out there. These numbers provide us with some documentation, that things are really happening in Los Angeles.”
Is this change rooted in policy or geography? The Times reported:
In a news release that accompanied the report, the authority's executive director said the drop in overall homeless numbers can be attributed to efforts by the city, county and local service providers to address poverty and homelessness. Those include L.A. County"s $100-million Homeless Prevention Initiative and the city's push for permanent supportive housing.
The report said the most important change is "a paradigm shift. … Programs are centered on housing placement of homeless families and individuals and providing the tools and skills they need to stay housed."
So it’s not simply an issue of area LA homeless residents leaving the metro area via free will or force; the city has made a real effort to reduce the problem. And with the state having obvious financial problems this is quite the achievement.
Perhaps Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty can take notes from Los Angeles. In 2004 the Republican governor and prospective presidential candidate proposed an ambitious plan to reduce chronic homelessness. However, Pawlenty has since fallen short of that goal – now claiming it’s unrealistic to think things could stay the same given the state of the economy.
Yet, Los Angeles County has managed to do so.
Last Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs laid out a five-year goal of curbing the number of homeless veterans, pledging $3.2 billion to an issue that is increasingly affecting those who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
And late last week, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson announced the city would be shifting its strategy on homelessness – placing greater emphasis on finding permanent housing than providing emergency shelter beds.
Judging from the results of Los Angeles County, perhaps other mayors need to join Mayor Johnson in following LA’s lead.
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Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.