Safe Community Project


The challenges of homelessness in Los Angeles

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A homeless community on a city sidewalk.

Everyday, we see people living in tents, in old campers and mobile homes, and in many cases, under a blanket. The issues of homelessness in Los Angeles are not easy to resolve. At present, this is likely to be our biggest challenge in L.A., and there are no easy answers. 

To help create a better understanding, check out these ten issues related to persons experiencing homelessness in the greater Los Angeles area:

  1. Affordable Housing Shortage: Los Angeles faces a significant shortage of affordable housing, which is one of the primary drivers of homelessness. The high cost of living and the mismatch between wages and rent prices make it difficult for many individuals and families to secure stable housing.
  2. Mental Health and Substance Abuse: A considerable portion of the homeless population in Los Angeles struggles with mental health issues, substance abuse, or both. Access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment is limited, which complicates efforts to effectively address and reduce homelessness.
  3. Economic Factors: Unemployment and underemployment are significant issues. Many people experiencing homelessness have jobs but do not earn enough to afford housing due to low wages and part-time or unstable employment.
  4. Inadequate Shelter System: The capacity of shelters in Los Angeles is often outstripped by the demand. Additionally, the conditions in some shelters can deter their use by homeless individuals. This results in a high number of unsheltered homeless people, who are more visible in public spaces and encampments.
  5. Healthcare Access: There are significant barriers to accessing healthcare for homeless individuals. Lack of health insurance, transportation, and identification documents can prevent them from receiving basic medical care, let alone specialized services.
  6. Legal and Systemic Barriers: People experiencing homelessness often face legal barriers, such as ordinances that criminalize sleeping in public places, which can lead to a cycle of fines, arrests, and further marginalization.
  7. Public Safety and Crime: Homelessness is linked with higher rates of victimization as well as encounters with the criminal justice system. Safety concerns both for and about the homeless population can complicate public perception and policy responses.
  8. Service Coordination: Coordinating the various services needed to effectively address homelessness—housing, health care, social services, job training—is a significant challenge. Fragmentation among service providers can lead to inefficiencies and gaps in service delivery.
  9. Community Resistance: There is often local resistance to building shelters or affordable housing developments in certain neighborhoods. This “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude can stall or block projects intended to mitigate homelessness.
  10. Impact of COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges, increasing economic instability and putting additional strain on health and social services.
A line of motor homes and camper trailers parked along a street.

In the opinion of our board of directors and myself, there are two critical issues that will help reduce the number of people relegated to living on the street: temporary housing, and access to services. People need sleep. Many of us get very little, and it’s not a good healthy situation. Imagine not having a place to sleep, to laugh, to cry, or even just to think. Unthinkable. 

Secondly, we need to provide important services to people to help them. It’s not just about mental health – it can be getting a new I.D. or driver’s license. People who have fallen out of the cultural “norm” of living in a home or apartment may need any number of steps to get them back into mainstream society. Services as well as temporary housing are essential components to a formula for success.

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