7 ways to help the homeless in Los Angeles

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This week, the county takes on a daunting but important task: counting the number of Angelenosexperiencing homelessness on our streets.

The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count takes place Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, with each night focusing on a different geographic area.

Last year’s count found that, in the city of Los Angeles, an estimated 34,189 people experience homelessness on any given night. Year-round, an estimated 42,828 people live unsheltered in vehicles, tents, or encampments, making LA home to the largest number of unsheltered residents in the country.

Signing up for the annual homeless count is one of the best ways to help tackle the crisis. But it’s not the only way to help. We asked experts and local homelessness advocates to ask what else Angelenos can do. Their answers and solutions are below.

1. Sign up for the Homeless Count

“The annual Homeless Count doesn’t just give us an accurate picture of how many people we can help, it gives us the information we need to find and fund real, supportive solutions,” says Elise Buik, CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We need everyone in to get everyone into homes and the Homeless Count volunteers are key to achieving that goal.”

LA’s homeless crisis, by the numbers

  • 57,794: the number ofpeople experiencing homeless countywide in 2017
  • 20 percent: the increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness last year compared to 2016
  • Onethird: the approximate share of homeless residents countywide who are mentally ill
  • 9 percent: the portion of homeless residents countywide who are younger than 18 years old
  • 48: the life expectancy, in years, for a homeless resident, compared to 80 for the state

Source: Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority 

With reporting centers all over the county, you can sign up for a location near you. Beyond helping the city learn where to target its efforts, it’s a good way to get to know your neighbors and serve your community.

2. Build an ADU to house someone

After the state relaxed local ordinances that make it easier for homeowners to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) or granny shack on their properties, applications skyrocketed.

Now LA County has launched a pilot program where qualifying homeowners can receive up to $75,000 in funding—as well as a streamlined permitting process—to construct ADUs if they rent the units to formerly homeless individuals.

State Senator Bob Wieckowski, who sponsored the original ADU bill, is working on more legislation to help clear hurdles for property owners. “The power should go to the homeowner, not the government, if they want to help with the housing crisis,” he told Curbed. “We should let them chip in.”

3. Donate in-kind goods

Many local homeless organizations accept donations, both monetary and in-kind. “Unrestricted general funds go directly to the women we serve, and donating is a quick, simple way to make a big impact,” says Ana Velouise of the Downtown Women’s Center. But the center needs in-kind goods, too.

“We’re always in need of clean socks and underwear, sleeping bags, and travel-sized toiletries,” says Velouise.

Check out the center’s Amazon wish list for an quick way to purchase additional items that can be shipped directly to the center. Most missions and shelters have similar lists to make donating easy.

Affordable housing apartments
Neighborhood support can help get housing projects approved, like this Skid Row Housing Trust development in Westlake.
Skid Row Housing Trust

4. Advocate for affordable housing

Voters have approved several ballot measures to give money to more homelessness solutions, but there are still roadblocks in the way. Your participation in public meetings could help sway lawmakers to change city policies.

“It is crucial for residents who support [building] more homes to turn out to hearings and to contact decision makers about proposed housing developments,” says Mark Vallianatos of Abundant Housing. “Otherwise only NIMBY voices will be heard.”

One of the issues Abundant Housing is working on now is changing the city’s Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance so that projects designed to house and provide services for the chronically homeless can be larger and approved more quickly, with less public review.

Right now supportive housing projects require additional planning review if they hold more than 50 units. Advocates are pushing to raise the threshold to 120, and to 200 in Downtown, so projects can serve more people—and be less likely to face opposition.

Sign up for Abundant Housing’s weekly action alert to find out where you can advocate for new homes.

Homelessness In Los Angeles Jumps 20 Percent From 2016 NumbersHomelessness In Los Angeles Jumps 20 Percent From 2016 Numbers
A homeless encampment on Spring Street, photographed on May 1, 2017.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

5. Volunteer

Many Angelenos have made serving food at a shelter or kitchen part of their holiday season traditions. But homeless organizations also need a wide range of ongoing, lesser-known skills like tutoring, resume-editing, and child care.

Many Skid Row shelters, including the Downtown Women’s Center and Los Angeles Mission have new volunteer orientations coming up on Saturday, February 3. You can even sign up for “group serve” events where you’ll volunteer as a team with friends or coworkers. Or check out opportunities on Volunteer Match, which are located all over the city.

6. Take a walking tour of Skid Row

With almost 60,000 residents, LA’s homeless community could be its own city. Thinking about it that way can help Angelenos cope with the crisis, says Adam Murray, executive director of Inner City Law Center.

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Murray vividly describes the demographics of “Homeless City,” which includes about 5,000 local children. Inner City Law Center offers a real-life way to understand the scope of homelessness in LA with walking tours through Skid Row, led by local residents.

“If we stop for a moment and consider what is around us, we see what will make Homeless City a smaller and healthier place: more affordable housing, higher incomes, more healthcare and social services and earlier interventions,” Murray writes.

The monthly walking tours take place at 10 a.m. on Fridays, the next one is February 18. Sign up here for details.

Homeless veteran Kendrick Bailey outside his tent on a street corner near Skid Row.
Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

7. Just say “hello”

“It sounds simple and that you may not be making a difference, but when you make eye contact with someone who is often ignored, someone who has been struggling to maintain their dignity, you are telling them that in that moment you see them,” says Jackie Vorhauer of Skid Row Housing Trust, which provides permanent supportive housing for 2,000 people in 26 buildings throughout LA County.

“They are not invisible. So say hello. It may help them hang on to tomorrow when an opportunity for housing presents itself,” says Vorhauer.

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