On February 22, over 20 volunteers gathered at Harmony Toluca Lake on Cahuenga for the Toluca Lake Homeless Count. After the 2021 Homeless Count was postponed due to COVID concerns, a new drive-through, hands-free model was used to onboard volunteers. Equipped with a digital app and hard-copy map, Toluca Lake counters surveyed the streets for those experiencing homelessness in our neighborhood. While we won’t know the results until summer, it’s impossible not to notice the growing number of encampments in and around the city. The Homeless Count should give a better idea about how big that number really is.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) started the annual Homeless Count in 2005. Relying on thousands of volunteers, LAHSA uses the data collected from these demographic and numeric counts to determine where homeless services — like housing, food and shelter — are needed, as well as how much it costs Los Angeles County to keep a person experiencing homelessness on the street, versus sheltering them.
In 2015, the nonprofit Weingart Center found that it costs a proposed investment of $10,000 to help a person experiencing homelessness obtain housing, food and job training. In comparison, leaving that same person on the street costs Los Angeles an average of $35,000 in medical, emergency, mental health, social services and law enforcement calls. Jailing a person experiencing homelessness drives that cost up by a third.
According to LAHSA, there were 65,287 people who were experiencing homelessness in L.A. County when the Count first began in 2005. From 2009 to 2015, numbers had dropped below 45,000. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the 2020 Homeless Count topped L.A. County’s highest homeless population ever, at 66,436. This was a 12.7% increase from the 2019 Count. Los Angeles had a 14.2% increase alone.
The 2020 Count found that 6% of those experiencing homelessness were veterans. Black people made up 34% of L.A. County’s homeless population — a disproportionate number compared to the Black population of the county (approximately 8%). In addition, 12% of those experiencing homelessness were under the age of 18; 32% were female; 20% were in family units (usually led by a single mother); 17% were physically disabled; 38% were chronically homeless; 24% experienced substance abuse disorders; 22% suffered from serious mental illness; and 29% experienced domestic/intimate partner violence.
Special thanks to Toluca Lake residents Jim Fitzpatrick and Barbara Carroll, who helped facilitate this year’s Homeless Count, as well as Reynold Blight and Colby Jensen (and his dad!) of the Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council for volunteering. Thank you to all those who supported the Count!