Ending homelessness is simple: Provide people with a home. While it is a straightforward solution, developing new housing takes time, is costly, and often faces community opposition. Within the existing rental market vacancy rates are low and housing is unaffordable to most, especially those at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
Recent data make a strong case that homelessness at its core is a housing issue, regardless of other complexities within the population. The June 2018 UCLA Anderson Forecast found strong correlations between high rent and home prices and the number of people experiencing homelessness. In addition, a 2017 Zillow report indicated that a 5% increase in rent in Los Angeles County would result in 2,000 additional people losing housing.
Recently, LeSar Development Consultants (LDC) worked with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) to assist 17 cities in creating city-specific plans to address homelessness. The San Gabriel Valley, although just one Service Planning Area (SPA) in Los Angeles County, has nearly 4,300 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. While small in comparison to the City of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley’s homeless population is larger than those of 31 states nationwide.
In January 2018, LDC set out on a path to engage each community and their stakeholders to draft a plan for adoption by their city councils at the end of June. The cities varied in size and demographic composition, as well as in their understanding of homelessness. Some cities have been working proactively on the issue for years and already had solid strategies on which to build, while other cities were taking their first steps to tackle the issue. As with any project that involves people from diverse backgrounds, our team heard differing opinions on challenges, solutions, and best practices.
Throughout the process, LDC stayed focused on the vision that housing is the best remedy for homelessness and that cities play a crucial role in encouraging development across the socioeconomic spectrum. Specifically, cities have a lot of control when it comes to land use, zoning, and siting affordable housing, supportive housing, and shelter. Our work in the San Gabriel Valley underscored the need for all three, both locally and countywide. In fact, in February 2018 the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released a report that identified a gap of more than 21,000 supportive housing units, 10,446 Rapid Re-Housing spots, and just over 3,000 emergency shelter beds to meet the needs of single adults across Los Angeles County. While creating more affordable and supportive housing are no-brainers, I sometimes hesitate to encourage the creation of new shelter beds. Los Angeles County, however, is an anomaly compared to the rest of the country given the sheer number of people living outdoors. Currently, the San Gabriel Valley has only 1,200 temporary housing beds. Three-quarters of the homeless population lives unsheltered on the streets and in riverbeds and canyons.
It was exciting for our team to celebrate the adoption of the plans by each city council during the SGVCOG City Homeless Plan Summit on August 1st in San Dimas. At the summit, the SGVCOG highlighted the many cities that included strategies to address housing:
Obviously, plans are only effective if they are implemented, and cities will need assistance identifying and tapping into available resources to achieve the goals outlined in their plans. However, the planning process generated regional momentum to prevent and address homelessness, and I am optimistic that SPA 3 will see declines in homelessness across the area over the next several years. Remember, ending homelessness is quite simple in concept but hard to achieve. And it’s a reminder to always ask yourself, “Without housing, where do people ultimately go?”
Kris Kuntz, Principal, is passionate about creating innovative solutions to address homelessness. Prior to joining LDC, he performed agency-wide evaluation activities for San Diego’s largest homeless services agency, that included a drop day center, emergency shelter, transitional housing, rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, and a federally qualified health center. He was an integral part of Project 25, San Diego’s successful homeless high utilizer project and worked with Managed Care Organizations to sustain the project after the United Way’s initial investment. To learn more about LDC’s work with homeless assistance systems, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 2018 Point-In-Time Count data includes the Pasadena Continuum of Care.