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Homeless Rate Jumps In Los Angeles


California has the fifth biggest economy in the world, but the state can't seem to get a handle on its growing homeless population.


ERIC GARCETTI: Fighting homelessness is not for the faint of heart. This is tough, tough work. And like you, I'm as frustrated about any encampment on any sidewalk in our city.

KING: That was LA Mayor Eric Garcetti in his State of the City Address. New numbers out this week show that in several counties across California, homelessness rates jumped by double digits. Anna Scott from KCRW is on the line. She reports on housing from Los Angeles.

Good morning, Anna.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So these numbers are rising across the state of California. What is going on?

SCOTT: Well, the big driver behind this is the extremely high cost of housing in places like Los Angeles, where I am. I mean, there are a lot of complicated reasons that any one person could become homeless. There's job loss, mental illness, addiction, somebody aging out of the foster care system without a strong support network. But those struggles aren't really new. What has changed in the past decade is the price of an apartment.

In the city of Los Angeles, the average rent for all apartments is more than $2,000 a month, and income has not kept up with that. So a lot of people who maybe could have scraped by, say, a decade ago and kept a roof over their heads just can't make it work anymore. We're seeing a lot of people homeless for the first time.

KING: Homeless for the first time, OK. So things are changing. You live and work in Los Angeles. Homelessness rates, according to these new numbers, jumped by 16% from last year. Can you see that in your daily life? Does the city look different?

SCOTT: Yes. Noel, if you haven't been here lately, it's hard to overstate the magnitude of this crisis. I don't think anyone who lives here is surprised by this. In every neighborhood across this city in parks, under freeway crossings, at bus stops, even on sidewalks, you see rows of camping tents, piles of belongings, people sleeping on the ground. This is transforming everyday life for people across the city. A lot of people are extremely angry. There are also a lot of people who want to help.

In my own neighborhood, there is a 60-year-old woman with various health problems who lives on a street corner, and she survives because the neighbors bring her food and water each week, which is a nice thing. But I can't say strongly enough that this is a humanitarian crisis, and people are dying on the streets of Los Angeles in record numbers and in other places in this region.

KING: OK, so just extraordinary stories there. We heard Mayor Garcetti a bit earlier - some tape from him - he said, I'm frustrated, which makes me wonder, how are state and local officials handling this beyond just speeches and frustration?

SCOTT: Well, at the local level, we do have new money from a couple of tax increases over the past couple of years. And the city and county have housed a lot of people with that money - over 20,000 people in the past year. The city is also opening new shelters and building new affordable housing, but it hasn't been enough to keep up with everybody falling into homelessness. And some of those projects have been slow and over-budget.

At the state level, Governor Gavin Newsom wants to put a lot more money into fighting homelessness through local governments. But it's also worth noting that, just in the past week, state lawmakers killed or gutted several bills that would have limited rent increases and made it more difficult to evict renters. At the same time, they're saying high rents and evictions are behind this crisis. So there is a lot of effort going on, but a lot of people say it's still not enough, and it's not urgent enough.

KING: KCRW housing reporter Anna Scott, talking to us from Los Angeles.

Anna, thanks so much.

SCOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Scott