Study: L.A.’s Homeless Population Is Higher Than Official Count Claimed

A study by the Rand Corporation found L.A.’s homeless population is 18% higher than the official count in Venice, Hollywood and Skid Row

An independent study performed by non-profit think tank the Rand Corporation found that homelessness had increased by an average of 18 percent over the last official count.

In a report released last summer, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that, after increasing 23 percent in two years, the unhoused population had risen by just five percent during the two years of the pandemic—a time in which it was believed that the homeless population would increase significantly, the Los Angeles Times reports. Even more surprisingly, LAHSA found that the homeless population had significantly decreased in three communities widely identified as homeless hotspots: Skid Row, Venice, and Hollywood.

However, Rand’s count, conducted between September 2021 through October 2022, contradicts LAHSA’s findings, recording a significant increase in the number of homeless people in those areas. In Venice the increase was 32 percent, while the number rose 13 percent on Skid Row and 14.5 percent in Hollywood, for an average of 18 percent. Rand argues that LAHSA’s three-day study is particularly vulnerable to inaccuracies—human, technical, and analytical—as it is largely conducted by volunteers with little training who document their findings on their phones.

“These policies and activities were formulated without the aid of any current, high-quality data on the number of people living unsheltered in these areas” or any data about their “specific housing experiences, need and preferences,” John Ward, the author of the survey, stated.

By focusing on small areas and surveying people repeatedly over the course of the year, Rand Corp. says it was able to identify patterns that an annual three-day survey was unable to document. For example, the study found that following a sweep that removed tents from Centennial Park in Venice there was a 13 percent drop in the next month’s count. The decline can be attributed to fewer tents and makeshift shelters, while the number of cars, vans, and RVs remained the same. But, later that month, the population of unsheltered people had rebounded to its previous numbers.

Of more than 400 unsheltered people surveyed, nearly 80 percent reported being homeless for over a year, with 57 percent saying they have been unhoused for over three years. Approximately 50 percent “of those same individuals reported having a chronic health and/or mental health condition,” according to Rand.

“Around 85 percent of respondents said they would accept offers of placement into permanent supportive housing, a hotel or motel, or a private shelter setting,” the study continues. “The most common reasons that respondents cited for not moving into housing were never being contacted for move-in (44 percent), lack of privacy (40 percent), housing safety (35 percent), and paperwork issues (29 percent).”

The study concluded that policymakers should focus on creating housing solutions that incorporate privacy and autonomy and that expanding congregate shelters may not be effective in reducing the homeless population across L.A.

LAHSA’s own yearly study concluded on Thursday. The agency had promised to make major improvements to the way it conducts its survey.

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