Recovery Watch: Homeless Problem in LA Is Growing

As President Barack Obama and Governor Jerry Brown continue to extol the wonders of the alleged economic recovery of nation and the Golden State, respectively, stories of significant growth in homelessness continue to rain on their parades. The latest example comes on the heels of reports on Seattle's burgeoning problem and the city's apparent willingness to allow officially sanctioned outdoor encampments to serve as a "temporary" (yeah, sure) solution.

In a Saturday item in the Los Angeles Times about the expansion of "homeless camps" outside of what had been known as the LA's "skid row," Times reporter Gale Holland apparently learned not to repeat a revealing disclosure she made in a December Times report covering the situation in San Jose. Her coverage was remarkably vague, failing to provide specifics I believe she could have relayed with little effort, especially given that homelessness and poverty is her assigned beat. Excerpts follow the jump.

Among other things, instead of telling us city officials' estimate of how many encampments there are, Holland gave the illusion of specificity by referring to the number of resident complaints (bolds are mine throughout this post):

More homeless camps are appearing beyond downtown L.A.'s skid row

... Over the last two years, street encampments have jumped their historic boundaries in downtown Los Angeles, lining freeways and filling underpasses from Echo Park to South Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency, received 767 calls about street encampments in 2014, up 60% from the 479 in 2013.

Some residents believe the city is exporting its downtown homeless problem to their neighborhoods. But social service agencies and volunteers say it isn't that simple. They say that although downtown development and skid row cleanups are squeezing out some homeless people, many camps are filled with locals.

Soaring rents, closed shelters and funding cutbacks are pushing residents from neighborhoods such as Highland Park and Boyle Heights into the streets, where they cling to familiar turf.

Let's stop here for a second. Where did these "funding cutbacks" originate?

In early December, a Times piece co-authored by Holland about the exploding homelessnes situation in San Jose told us the following:

In 2011, the state ended special redevelopment assessments, which essentially brought affordable housing construction to a halt, said Ray Bramson, San Jose's homelessness response manager.

"Affordable housing" programs have their share of problems, but as I noted in a December column at PJ Media, the state's move under Brown, whose name was kept out of Holland's December Times story, has received and apparently continues to receive "little apparent blowback from supposed 'progressives' and the state’s media watchdogs — er, lapdogs."

Here's more from Holland's Saturday story:

Bound by court decisions, the city has largely quit breaking up homeless groups and confiscating their trash and belongings, leaving the camps to grow and multiply.

Whether homeless people are more numerous or simply more visible could be answered by the biennial tally taking place this week.

As many as 6,000 volunteers will go out Tuesday through Thursday searching for homeless people living in alleys, riverbeds, cars and RVs.

Holland is indirectly saying that there is little to no possibility that homeless people are less "numerous."

That's interesting, because in 2012, official U.S. government numbers based on a January 2012 count were celebrating a decline, claiming, according to a Times report, that "Los Angeles' total homeless population had dropped by 6.8% from the previous year."

If that's the case, it seems that the homeless population has consistently and significantly increased annually since then, and shows little if any sign of stopping — all during a so-called "economic recovery."

It turns out that there's a significant numbers-based dispute. In July 2014, Holland reported that the recovery-claiming federal government didn't like the numbers coming out of LA:

Local officials announced in 2013 that 54,000 people in Los Angeles city and county were homeless, an increase of 15% from two years earlier.

The jump bucked national trends, and suggested the region's campaign against homelessness might be heading in the wrong direction.

But earlier this year, federal officials challenged 18,000 of that total — those whom L.A. considers "hidden homeless," detected through a random telephone survey designed to locate people scattered in hard-to-find places across the county's 4,000-square-mile sprawl.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says it lost confidence in the survey methodology. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority says its original count is the most accurate and comprehensive available.

One would be remiss not to note that the locals have a funding-driven incentive to inflate their numbers, and their spending on homeless initiatives seems out of control. The linked item from September indicates that LA County is spending $213 million on "to house 1,400 homeless people and to expand a tracking and placement system." If the vaunted "tracking system" is "only" $13 million of that (it's hard to imagine it could be more, until one remembers, that works out to $152,000 per each homeless person housed.

That said, it's more than a little interesting that homeless advocates in and out of Washington who have spent the better part of three decades trying to come up with ways to push the numbers upward — for example, including "Families who temporarily reside with another family due to loss of housing or economic hardship" when the host family is obviously and charitably providing shelter and making them obviously not homeless — is now pushing for lower numbers.

As to the importance of estimating the number of encampments — again, a number I believe Holland could report if she so chose, at least within a range — I suspect that readers will react with shock to what she conveyed about San Jose in that co-authored December report:

... the city is veined by a network of at least 200 other outdoor encampments.

That's "at least" 200 encampments in a city of about 1 million. Even that detail is incomplete. What was the "at most" number? 300? 400?

So yes, I believe readers would expect an estimate of how many encampments there are in three-times-larger LA. If the scale of the problem is similar to San Jose, the presence of 600 or more encampments is not at all out of the question. And yes, I believe it's reasonable to contend, after seeing the details she reported in December on San Jose, that Gale Holland may be reluctant to tell us more than she has to about LA's situation. It would make too many of the right people look bad.

One wonders how much longer the establishment press can pretend that there's no relationship between what is clearly become a growing problem and state and especially federal economic policy — something that was constantly seen during the Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 years. The longer it pretends, the more quickly whatever remains of its credibility will vanish.

Cross-posted at

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