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New Faces Contributing to Increase in Homelessness in Hollywood

By Kerry Morrison

August 24, 2015

[This is the second in a series of blogs on the impacts of homelessness in Hollywood and the organizations that are involved. Above photo of an encampment in the Sunset & Vine District in March, 2015.]

As we inch toward Labor Day, I realize that this summer will be characterized by the one issue that has dominated my attention: the increased evidence of homelessness in our city. Every day has involved phone calls with stakeholders, ad-hoc community meetings, or city and coalition task forces evaluating the factors at work and the solutions in play. So many people have suggested that we are in the midst of a new trend – a sea change of sorts – because what we are seeing does not resemble the face of homelessness five or ten years ago.

I have written about the increase in homelessness in LA County and LA City. Last month, owing to the efforts of our BID Patrol, we were able to document a stunning increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets of the two BIDs as compared to two years ago. (This was picked up by the Beverly Press in July.) The chart below documents the number of people counted by the BID Patrol on the last day of the month before 6 a.m. On June 30, 2015, there were 295 people, a 144 percent increase over June 30, 2013.

graph-homelessFor years, in Hollywood, we recognized those who were chronically homeless in Hollywood and by 2010, we worked very hard to identify everyone by name. That allowed the members of our coalition, Hollywood 4WRD, to intentionally connect over 400 people to housing options over five years. We were making great progress as a coalition.

But something has changed. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when this sea change occurred, but it became apparent at the beginning of the year that there was a new wave arriving in Hollywood. Many of these individuals did not seem interested in connecting with anyone to pursue housing.

In May, I asked our BID Patrol to engage every new face they saw and ask three questions:

  1. Where were you one year ago?
  2. Why are you in Hollywood?
  3. What are your needs?

In the first month, there was a startling realization: 55% of the 36 new faces in Hollywood said that one year ago, they were in another state. (20/36)

The results of this one-month survey begged the question: How are we going to meet our goals to house those who are chronically homeless in LA, if we continue to experience a wave of new arrivals?

To test whether this was an aberration, I asked the BID patrol to continue these intercept interviews for two more months. And further, our BID Security Committee asked if we could add a fourth question to the short interview: “What is your substance of choice?”

On July 30, 2015, our team had conducted these brief interviews with 113 new faces over three months.

Here is a summary of the key findings:

  • 72 percent were male
  • Two out of three were under age 35
  • One year ago, 44 percent were in another state
  • One year ago, 63 percent were homeless (which means that 27 percent were not homeless)
  • 57 percent admitted to some substance use. Crystal meth, heroin and marijuana were more prevalent among the younger cohort; alcohol the preferred substance for the older
  • 16 people (14 %) expressed some desire for help

Two factors emerge from these results which raise concerns as to whether our coalition partners can make meaningful inroads into helping people off the street:

  1. If 40 (minimum) new people are arriving every three months and are newly homeless in Hollywood, we are never going to meaningfully impact homelessness in Hollywood.
  2. If more than fifty percent are struggling with substance abuse, this raises the risk of intermittent homelessness becoming chronic, and the risk of a potential increase in property crimes.

This blog post is intended to be descriptive at this moment, not prescriptive. We need to determine if similar trends are surfacing elsewhere in Los Angeles.  I would welcome a more academic approach to this simple BID Patrol intercept survey.  Perhaps this trend is unique to certain communities that are attractive to a younger, more mobile crowd (e.g., Venice, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara). In my next blog, I will write about the reasons given when asked the question: “why are you here?” The answers are fascinating and run the gamut of leaving an abusive home life to pursuing a dream to following friends to Hollywood and being left behind.


Kerry Morrison is executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.  She serves as a Mayoral appointee to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and blogs at www.onlyinhollywood.org.

 

 

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