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Revised report reveals decrease in Westwood homelessness, is met with skepticism

(Daily Bruin file photo)

By Stephanie Lai

Aug. 5, 2019 12:38 a.m.

Finalized Los Angeles homeless count numbers revealed a decrease in homelessness in Westwood this year, but community leaders said the challenges the community faces are still substantial.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority released finalized numbers for the amount of homeless individuals in LA on July 26, retroactively changing the 2016-2018 numbers to more accurately reflect where homeless people were counted.

LAHSA conducts a point-in-time homeless count one night in January each year for all but three cities in LA County. Participants count homeless people in US census regions, or tracts, which sometimes cross multiple city lines.

LAHSA reported 142 homeless people in Westwood in 2019, a decrease from 2018 despite growing homelessness in LA County between January 2018 to 2019.

The 2018 count originally reported 248 homeless people, but was amended to 233 last week ⁠— now marking a 39% decrease in homelessness in Westwood as opposed to 43% calculated from the original, unamended report.

The previous numbers were readjusted to better reflect cities’ political boundaries, said LAHSA spokesperson Sean Wright. In the past, if a city’s political boundary included part of the census tract, the entire tract would either be included or left out.

The new system now divides census tracts split between two or more municipalities proportionally. LAHSA reanalyzed the 2016-2018 data under the new system to make it comparable to 2019 numbers.

If 25% of a census tract fell within a city’s political boundaries, then 25% of the homeless people counted in the tract would be added to that city or community, Wright said.

For Westwood, this revision means the original 2018 count was 6% higher than it is now.

While the updated numbers seem like a beacon of hope for Westwood ⁠— a community with several organizations monitoring the homeless population⁠ — some community leaders said they were not confident with the new numbers.

The homeless count number in Westwood has fluctuated in recent years, with 2017 and 2019 reporting major decreases in the sheltered homeless population.

During the homeless count, participants count for unsheltered homeless, but LAHSA internally determines the number of sheltered homeless.

LAHSA reported significantly higher numbers in 2018, recording 80 sheltered homeless individuals, but none in 2017 and 2019.

Unsheltered homeless are individuals living in nontraditional places such as tents, boxes and RVs, whereas sheltered homeless are those living in shelters designed for temporary housing.

Wright did not respond to requests to comment on what may have accounted for the unreported sheltered homeless population in 2017 and 2019.

According to the updated numbers, Westwood saw 11 less unsheltered homeless between 2018-2019.

Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said the association began conducting quarterly homeless counts this year and that he hasn’t seen significant decreases in Westwood homelessness.

“I’m excited about this new assessment and that it shows a reduction,” he said. “But the problems and challenges we face in Westwood don’t feel like they’ve been reduced.”

However, Westwood Village has seen a slight decrease in homeless sleeping in the streets over the past several years and the majority of occupants are chronically homeless, meaning they have been there for over 10 years, Thomas added.

Michael Skiles, president of North Westwood Neighborhood Council, said he believes there are fewer encampments and tents by Westwood Park and credits community wide collaboration as one reason Westwood’s homeless population has decreased.

Grayson Peters, NWWNC Transportation and Safety Committee chair, said he was skeptical about the readjusted homeless count and decrease in homelessness since last year.

“It would surprise me if things got better on their own because housing costs are getting worse and it’s not being addressed,” Peters said.

For example, Skiles announced at the June NWWNC meeting that plans for bridge housing on Gayley Avenue fell through due to city regulations.

Peters said the council is working with the WVIA to host more access days that provide services and resources to the Westwood homeless population.

The council will also press LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents Westwood and surrounding areas, to increase affordable housing units as required by Measure HHH, he said.

Measure HHH is an LA bond measure approved in 2016 and created to build thousands of affordable units for people at risk of becoming homeless.

[Related: New NWWNC committee to take on health and homelessness in Westwood]

Skiles, Peters and Thomas all felt the Village still faces the same challenges that contribute to LA’s homeless crisis, despite LAHSA’s reported decrease in homeless.

“I guess I’m skeptical,” Thomas said. “I know the numbers are up in the city and county despite the fact that more people were housed in LA in the last year than ever in the city. When you house that many people and still see an increase that means the system is being overwhelmed.”

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Stephanie Lai
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