Obama Economy = More Homelessness. 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.
“Homeless people, especially the mentally ill, they don’t like new,” said Senior Lead Officer Gina Chovan of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Division. “They want to stay where they know all the nooks and crannies.” 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.
Although authorities are not forcing homeless people out of downtown, redevelopment has made it harder for some to live there. Nursing a beer one morning by a street fountain on Sunset Boulevard, Eric Warner said he generally stays in Silver Lake, getting by as a handyman or caretaker.
When jobs dried up, he used to grab a cheap hotel room downtown. Now those rooms are gone, converted to homeless housing, tourist hotels, lofts or market-rate rentals. People like Warner have always gone back and forth from skid row to residential areas, where many feel safer and can maintain a semblance of normalcy, said Natalie Profant Komuro, executive director of Ascencia, a Glendale homeless services agency.
But as long as shelters, food lines and other relief programs remain concentrated in skid row, downtown will be continue to be a homeless magnet.