In January 2018, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count counted an estimated 31,516 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the city of Los Angeles. Those numbers are down slightly from the year before, but it’s still a daunting statistic for a city that is home to the largest unsheltered population in the country.
Thanks to the passage of Measures H and HHH, the city has more tools than ever to tackle the crisis, and there are finally some signs that efforts to house LA’s most vulnerable residents might be working. Earlier this year, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced A Bridge to Home, an effort to build emergency shelters in each council district, and issued an executive directive to fast-track their construction.
To help monitor the city’s progress, the United Way launched the Everyone In campaign, where Angelenos can advocate for new housing solutions in their neighborhoods, and urge elected officials to address the problem. Councilmembers each made a pledge to create 222 new supportive housing units in their districts, and loosened restrictions to speed up their delivery. Several of these projects have already broken ground.
We asked experts and local homelessness advocates what else Angelenos can do. Their answers and solutions are below.
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.
LA’s homeless crisis, by the numbers
- 53,195: the number ofpeople experiencing homeless countywide in 2018
- 6.2 percent: the portion of homeless residents countywide who are younger than 18 years old
- 9,322: the number of those surveyed who had become homeless for the first time in the last year
- 48: the life expectancy, in years, for a homeless resident, compared to 80 for the state
- 27 percent: the approximate share of homeless residents countywide who are mentally ill
Many Skid Row shelters, including the Downtown Women’s Center and Los Angeles Mission have new volunteer orientations every month. 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.
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. The prefab company Cover built a new tool so homeowners can see what size ADU is allowed on their property.
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.
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.” Sign up for Abundant Housing’s weekly action alert to find out where you can advocate for new homes.
Currently there are groups working to block the opening of emergency shelters. Find out where shelters are being proposed in your council district, and contact your councilmember to find out how to show your support for these projects.
5. 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.”
With reporting centers all over the county, you can sign up for a location near you each January. 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.
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. Sign up here for details.
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.