L.A. City  Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson spoke at Los Angeles Housing Authority as the latest homeless figures were released.

For anyone who drives through Los Angeles and surrounding communities including the San Fernando Valley, it’s no surprise, the numbers of homeless is getting worse. Rows of tents are now so commonplace along freeway underpasses that they now resemble shanty towns. Thousands of people look for a safe spot to sleep each night with hundreds dangerously living along the LA River and throughout the wash areas in the Valley.

The more fortunate among the population may have found a temporary shelter or have an old RV that they park wherever they can, or may have a car to sleep in.

While many homeless try to hide their situation by washing up in public restrooms, more and more homeless are now seen openly sleeping on bus benches or in storefronts.

“I know of women who sleep in the parking lot behind grocery stores at night with their kids,” one formally homeless woman shared with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol. 

“There are more single women with kids than you realize,” she said, while asking that her name not be released. “I am just getting on my feet myself, and my new boss doesn’t know I was homeless. There is a stigma, and I don’t want them to know I couldn’t pay the rent and we slept in our car after my husband left me and my kids. I didn’t have any family that could help me.”

There are now so many areas where tents are set up along city streets that officials now look the other way and no longer enforce previous rules that homeless needed to pack up and move along by daybreak. Now the tents appear to be permanent fixtures in many areas throughout the city and county. Some all-night restaurants allow those they get to know to sleep quietly in a corner. During the day, many homeless people become permanent fixtures spending the day at libraries or at parks. 

Homeless Count Released

As Mayor Eric Garcetti held a morning news conference with officials from LA’s Homeless Services Authority in downtown L.A Wednesday morning, May 31, a few blocks away a couple carrying a cooler randomly handed out breakfast to homeless who were exiting their tents.

One man relieved himself against a concrete wall just a foot away from his tent where he was previously sleeping.

White trash bags filled with clothes were dropped off by someone during the night, and people started sifting through them and held them against their bodies to see if they might fit. What they didn’t want was thrown on the dirt ground in an empty lot, along with old shopping carts and piles of debris. 

“We didn’t need a homeless count to know what we know, which is that Los Angeles is undergoing a housing and homelessness crisis,’’ Garcetti said, as the results of the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count were released.

The count found the city of Los Angeles jumped by 20 percent over the last year while the county saw a spike of 23 percent. In the city, the total number of homeless went up to 34,189 and the county number increased to 57,794.

The homeless count took place over three nights in January and was conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which saw a record number of volunteers — totaling more than 8,000 — participate.

In the L.A. County District 3 that covers the San Fernando Valley represented by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the numbers of homeless people who were counted increased by 11 percent with 11,870 homeless.

During this last count, more people volunteered for the effort and officials wondered whether they may have received more accurate numbers this time around.

“Our numbers are more accurate. People always go back and forth, ‘is it really that homelessness is up by this much? I’m going to assume it is,” Garcetti said at the news conference.

Measure HHH

The tally comes as the city and county are investing a record number of funds toward homeless services following the passage by city voters of Measure HHH in November and county voters’ approval of Measure H in March.

Measure HHH is expected to raise $1.2 billion in bonds for the construction of 10,000 units of housing for the homeless, and Measure H will create a quarter-cent sales tax to raise $355 million annually over 10 years for homeless programs.

“Today I am not discouraged at all by this data. We knew well intuitively that the uptick could be perceived,” said county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“The good news is that we have the capacity for the first time to stand up to it. Imagine how we would feel if there had been no Measure HHH. Imagine how we would look today if there had been no Measure H. This would be a very different conversation.”

The rising cost of housing, along with a housing shortage, was acknowledged by officials as a top cause of the homeless problem. Los Angeles has not built enough housing or affordable housing over the last decades to keep up with the increasing population, making the city one of the least affordable in the nation.

“What we need to double down on is, with the mayor’s leadership and the leadership of the council, making sure that we have a source of revenue for affordable housing, that we have sufficient anti-poverty programs,” said Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

The homeless count is required to be done every two years by the federal government, but LAHSA went to an annual count last year.

City News Service contributed to this article.