Ending Homelessness in LA: Looking at the Progress

Addressing homelessness is a continuous effort. As soon as one individual or family gets a home and leaves the streets, others take their places. That's the reality.

Ending homelessness is not about waving a magic wand so no one becomes homeless ever again; rather, it's working hard to make sure the processes and systems are in place so that when a person or family enters homelessness, their housing needs are quickly and appropriately identified, met and sustained. This requires swift and coordinated action on the part of agencies. We know this can be done because many communities are succeeding by following such a basic formula.

Much to their credit, leaders in Los Angeles are coming to terms with what it will take to address the lack of affordable housing and the homelessness crisis in the City and County, where more than 44,000 individuals go un-sheltered on any given night (source 2015 homeless Point-In-Time count).

Governments must allocate additional resources to address this great need, but every agency and advocate involved also has a responsibility to concentrate on optimizing coordination and cooperation among programs and providers. Even when we look at what could seem like insurmountable numbers, we cannot lose sight of the progress Los Angeles is making on that front.

Community-minded philanthropic organizations - including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Weingart Foundation and California Community Foundation - joined with City and County agencies to collectively allocate money to end veterans and chronic homelessness through the Home For Good Funders Collaborative. As a result, housing providers accessed coordinated systems to house many people throughout the area. Working together, the United Way, CSH, the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, and the City and County of Los Angeles have created enhanced coordinated entry systems for individuals, families and young adults. And the L.A. County Department of Health Services, through the use of health dollars, established a pool of funds (the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool) for supportive housing.

These efforts are meaningful and impactful, and should not be discounted.

The Hilton Foundation, the United Way and many others have recognized that addressing homelessness at its very roots benefits all of us. Investments from Hilton have leveraged nearly $270 million in public financing and over $336 million in private financing for homes for people experiencing long-term homelessness.

The return on investing in supportive housing and other affordable housing is a win for taxpayers. It costs government $2,900 per month to provide services to people living on our streets or in parks. That figure declines to $605 when they're in affordable, supportive housing for a savings of $27,492 per year per person.

The fundamental challenge facing Los Angeles and many other urban centers throughout the country is an obvious one - rents in this city are too high for too many. As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has pointed out, median rent has increased 28% while median income has dropped 7%. This dynamic only adds to the risk of homelessness. It's simple - as housing costs go up so, too, does homelessness unless an environment is nurtured to create and maintain affordable rental units such as supportive housing.

We know homelessness does not have to be the norm. It will never disappear completely, but it can be met head on so that suffering and time without stable housing is minimized to the shortest possible extent.

Los Angeles gets that message and that's a real reason for hope.