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Housing

Homelessness in Los Angeles soars by 20 per cent

As the cost of housing increases, the city is struggling with a rise in the number of people living on the streets

The number of rough sleepers is growing in many cities across the UK.

But anyone who has spent time on the west coast of the United States will know the scale of street homelessness there is of a different order – large patches of shanty-type dwellings and tent encampments are visible under freeways and out on the hillsides.

The latest figures show the problem is getting worse. The number of homeless people in the city of Los Angeles increased by 20 per cent to just over 34,000. In the wider, suburban Los Angeles county, the number of homeless people rose 23 per cent to almost 58,000.

“It’s impossible to wrap your head around the numbers,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who admitted there was “no sugar coating the bad news.”

A very big part of the problem is the shortage of affordable housing

Back in 2015 the LA authorities declared homelessness a “public emergency” and committed $100 million to addressing it.

But the scale of the challenge in attempting to help so many people now engrained in life on the streets – many suffering from long-term addiction and mental health issues – remains daunting.

There is a less widespread network of charities providing emergency shelter than in London and other UK cities. To that end, Los Angeles recently approved a plan to raise $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 new units of housing for homeless people.

But the biggest problem in getting people off the streets remains the lack of good options when helping people reintegrate into society and sustain independent living.

The staggering cost of housing in San Francisco, LA – and all urban areas in between – means many people struggle, financially, to keep a roof over their head.

According to the California Housing Partnership, renters in Los Angeles county need to earn four times the minimum wage to afford the average monthly rent of $2,499 (just over £1,900). Rents in the area have soared 32 per cent since 2000.

“A very big part of the problem is the shortage of affordable housing,” Chris Richardson, director of the Downtown Streets Team charity, told The Big Issue.

“So a big part of the answer is building low-income, genuinely affordable housing and also supporting the services which are the bridge to that housing.”

Photo: Jay Thompson, licensed under Creative Commons

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