Number of homeless residents in Los Angeles County decreases in annual count

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The number of homeless residents counted in Los Angeles County has dipped slightly, decreasing by about 0.3% since last year as California continues to struggle with the long-running crisis of tens of thousands of people sleeping in cars and encampments.

Results released Friday from a federally required tally conducted in January found 75,312 people were homeless on any given night across the county, compared with 75,518 in 2023. About 45,252 were within the city of Los Angeles, where public frustration has grown as tents have proliferated on sidewalks and in parks.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declared a homelessness state of emergency on her first day in office in December 2022. The tally of unhoused people in the city of about 4 million, one of the nation's largest, is about equal to the population of Palm Springs.

“This is not the end, it is the beginning and we will build on this progress, together,” Bass said in a statement.

Janice Hahn, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement that "For the first time in years, the number of people sleeping on our streets is down and the number of people in our shelters is up.”

The estimates were released on the same day the Supreme Court cleared the way for cities to enforce bans on homeless people sleeping outside in public places, overturning a California appeals court ruling that found such laws amount to cruel and unusual punishment when shelter space is lacking.

Bass warned in a statement that the high court's decision should not be used to criminalize the unhoused population.

“This ruling must not be used as an excuse for cities across the country to attempt to arrest their way out of this problem or hide the homelessness crisis in neighboring cities or in jail. Neither will work,” she said.

LA County is the nation’s most populous, with about 10 million people. More than 1 in 5 of all homeless people in the U.S. live in the county, based on a 2022 federal tally.

Bass said it was the first drop in the city's homeless tally in six years. She has allotted what she called a record $1.3 billion in the city budget to get unhoused people into shelter and treatment programs.

Still, the ongoing crisis is playing out in plain sight in virtually every neighborhood in the city.

The problem is most apparent in downtown Los Angeles, where thousands of people live in makeshift shanties that line entire blocks in the notorious neighborhood known as Skid Row. Tents regularly pop up on the pavement and parks outside City Hall, and encampments increasingly are found in suburban areas and under freeway overpasses.

Bass' signature program, dubbed Inside Safe, offers homeless people motel rooms and a path to permanent housing with services. It has more than 2,760 enrollees so far, her office said this week.

Volunteers with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority fanned out across the county in January for the annual report's main component, the unsheltered street tally. The so-called point-in-time count took place over three days but results were not released until they were validated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Congress requires the tallies every two years and uses the information to distribute resources for homeless services.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom has budgeted record sums to combat homelessness that pervades the state’s major cities and many smaller communities. A state audit in April found that California spent $24 billion to tackle homelessness over the past five years but did not consistently track whether the huge outlay of public money actually improved the situation.