By GABRIELLA BOCK | Reporter
As the city of Los Angeles scrambles to find a solution to its surging homeless population, Pacific Palisades is leading the way in reducing homeless numbers by more than half.
Experts are now urging city leaders to look at the Palisadian model of dealing with the crisis, a combination of personal engagement and empathetic policing.
Los Angeles Police Department officers, such as Rusty Redican, working with the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness have helped reduce the number of unsheltered in the town from nearly 200 to around 90—although it may rise during the coming summer months.
This includes not only the more-visible mentally ill and “fire starters” in the canyons, but also low-key families living in RVs on PCH—and some who even hold a daily job but cannot make rent.
As the numbers have grown across LA County, the picture of who is homeless has become more complex and more racially, economically and demographically diverse.
This has also happened in the Palisades, meaning that every individual has to be treated in a customized way to ensure they find alternatives to sleeping on the beach.
Across the county, the picture is bleak.
The number of homeless has risen by 23 percent over last year to nearly 60,000.
So, the Palisades is, despite its appeal as a safe haven for many homeless arriving from outside the Westside or even beyond LA, home to only a tiny fraction of the area’s unsheltered.
According to this year’s count results released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were 57,794 homeless Angelenos found living in makeshift encampments, tents and vehicles. That is four times higher than the 2016 count, nearly 11,000 more people.
Despite citywide outreach efforts that have placed more than 14,000 previously unsheltered individuals into permanent housing, Mayor Eric Garcetti believes this year’s results demonstrate better counting methods and also the problems caused by rising rents and shrinking incomes.
According to a report from the California Housing Partnership Corporation, median rental prices in Los Angeles have risen by 28 percent since 2000 while the median income of renters has declined by eight percent.
And this year’s 41-percent increase of homeless youth indicates that the weak affordable housing market is hitting families with children more aggressively than others.
Although the news isn’t good, Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness members believe their outreach model of community-wide engagement can serve as an example of how other boroughs can be successful in their efforts.
“The main reason our numbers have decreased is due to the tremendous coordination and effort of the enforcement team, the LAPD bike patrol and the outreach workers from OPCC, now called The People Concern,” LAHSA Coordinator Kim Clary said.
“With this dynamic combination and approach, the task force has been very successful.”
And now that Measures H and HHH—which will invest billions into for the construction of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing while providing social rehabilitative services over the next decade—have passed, the city is ramping up their response to the rising epidemic. The city has even partnered with The University of Southern California—a move that will grant the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work a large leap forward in their Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness. The collaborative effort aims to procure affordable housing for every Angeleno, with the belief that homelessness is a community problem that can be solved.
Benjamin Henwood, an assistant professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, told the Palisadian-Post that while HHH was imperative in addressing the city’s shortage of affordable housing, providing shelter is only one part of the solution.
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of people who have recently become homeless for the first time, which, yes, likely has to do with an increasingly tight rental market,” Henwood said.
“Based on this year’s count, we also see that over 30 percent of the homeless population have experienced some sort of violence in their lives.”
“Ten percent of adults on the streets are currently fleeing violence, which underscores the need to provide trauma-informed services so that we can effectively respond to the needs of an increasingly large and diverse population,” he said.
To complicate outreach further, the racial make-up of people living on the streets is changing.
African Americans remain the largest racial group, accounting for 40 percent of the homeless. But the population of unsheltered Latinos grew by an unprecedented 63 percent this year, while the number of white homeless individuals dropped by two percentage points.
The report also revealed that there are 4,828 unsheltered veterans living on the streets of LA. That number, up 57 percent from 2016, accounted for nearly 12 percent of the county’s entire homeless population. This is despite political promises to house all veterans.