LOS ANGELES — Homelessness across Los Angeles County experienced a slight decline, but the percentage of homeless that served in the military is on the rise, according to a report released Tuesday by a countywide organization.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) put out the results of the county’s homeless count, the largest count of homeless individuals and families nationwide.
It took 4,000 volunteers three days in January of this year to cover 4,000 square miles of the county, excepting only Pasadena, Glendale and Long Beach.
The results were mixed.
While the homeless population dropped 3 percent, or nearly 1,600 individuals, the composition of the homeless population shifted, with a greater percentage of veterans and mentally disabled amongst the homeless.
Santa Monica, which is a part of LAHSA, stayed flat from its 2010 homeless count of 742, dropping down two to 740.
The results showed a 19 percent drop from 2009 figures, however, when the previous count was conducted in the county.
Approximately $58 million in new funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, commonly known as the stimulus bill, and the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing program accounts for some of the improvement, said Michael Arnold, the executive director of LAHSA.
“Both have made significant new resources available to prevent people from becoming homeless and helping those who do to get permanent stable housing,” Arnold said.
The three-year grant is spread across 20 jurisdictions in the county, which has helped to slow and reverse the trend of homelessness.
According to the results, however, of the 51,340 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County, 8,131 are veterans. That’s an increase from 6,540 in 2009, the last year that the count was conducted.
Of those homeless veterans, more are chronically homeless than ever before, which means that they were continuously homeless for over one year, or have had at least four periods of homelessness in three years.
While 24 percent of the homeless population is considered chronically homeless, a relatively small number of veterans account for 31 percent of that group.
A soft economy, paired with the stresses of returning from an active war zone, seem to be impacting that community, Arnold said.
“What we’re seeing is as young service people return home and are discharged when they may have post traumatic stress disorder or other disabilities,” Arnold said. “They’re coming back to a depressed economy, a poor job market and more are ending up homeless.”
Also distressing is the increase in female veterans that are homeless.
Slightly more women enlisted in the Army than a decade ago according to U.S. Army statistics, but homeless service providers in Los Angeles have seen a 51 percent increase in the number of homeless female veterans since 2009.
“They come home and don’t have access to the care and services they need and end up homeless,” Arnold said.
Last Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, in partnership with Santa Monica City Councilmember Bobby Shriver and various other parties, filed a lawsuit alleging that the Department of Veterans Affairs was not doing enough to combat homelessness amongst veterans in the area.
Specifically, the VA wasn’t making the effort to provide services to mentally-handicapped homeless by not offering permanent supportive housing, despite a large tract of land and buildings specifically donated for that purpose.
“You can’t get better if you’re living in a dumpster,” Shriver said.
A 2009 LAHSA study also documented a savings of $27,504 to the service providers if a client was permanently housed rather than just providing piecemeal services.
The Veterans Administration would not comment on the lawsuit initially, beyond saying that the administration helped over 130,000 homeless veterans at its medical facilities in the last year.
Charles Miller, a spokesperson for the United States Department of Justice, said that the lawsuit was too recent, and that the department had not made any determination on the matter.
The court has not yet set a date for when the government’s response is due.
Not all the news on the veterans’ front is bleak, however. Between 2008 and 2011, LAHSA helped house 1,039 veterans into apartments using Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers.