On Dec. 2, the West Hollywood City Council received an update on a survey of its population of people experiencing homelessness, which the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s count found increased approximately 36% this year, up from 96 people in 2018 to 131 in 2019.
Councilwoman Lauren Meister said while West Hollywood’s numbers increased by a larger percentage than those in Los Angeles city and county, which saw 16% and 12% percent increases, respectively, the scale of the problem in West Hollywood makes the jump look bigger than it seems.
“Yes, it’s a 30% increase, but we’re talking about 30 people versus 10,000 people. So, I just want to put that in perspective,” Meister said.
For the third year, West Hollywood also used LAHSA’s demographic survey instrument to learn more about the city’s homeless population, and 68 people experiencing homelessness participated. While the small sample size and reliance on self-reported information means the results shouldn’t be overemphasized – “we have to take it with a little bit of caution,” Councilman John Heilman said – the survey revealed that West Hollywood’s homeless people are different than those in Los Angeles in several key ways.
For one, West Hollywood’s homeless population tends to be younger, and approximately 12% of them are 18 to 24 years old.
This year’s results marked the first time that a majority of respondents, approximately 56%, identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 28% of respondents said they live with HIV/AIDS, far more than the 1.6% of respondents in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, which includes all of the county except for Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.
David Giugni, social services manager for West Hollywood, said West Hollywood’s HIV-positive people experiencing homelessness reflect the larger trends within Los Angeles County.
“This was the first time in the three years that we’ve participated that the majority of folks said that they’re from the LGBT community. The GB part, and the T, that is our HIV epidemic … I think it was 19 folks, it was 28%, said they self-reported HIV-positive. Of those, five were trans women, and then the majority of the other folks were African-American and Latino. That’s the county epidemic.”
Approximately 59% of West Hollywood’s homeless population also reported that they had been victims of domestic violence or abuse.
“It seems overwhelmingly that there’s a lot of connection between domestic violence, history of violence in someone’s life experience, leading to the experience of homelessness. How can we reconvene those resources, that expertise? How can we connect the dots and connect them to care and services more effectively?” said Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey Horvath, who also expressed support for convening the city’s Community Response Team for Domestic Violence.
Horvath also pointed out that only 40% of respondents are unemployed, a decrease from the surveys in 2017 and 2018, which found that 65% and 68%, respectively, of respondents were unemployed. Still, Horvath noted, the city’s homeless population grew.
“Employment doesn’t guarantee a change,” she said.
The city also accepted a Los Angeles County Homeless Plan Implementation Grant of $300,000.
The money, while not enough to build or procure housing, will allow the city to study where and when housing for people experiencing homelessness could be created.
“With $300,000, you’re not opening a shelter,” Mayor John D’Amico said.
Meister said the city also needs to support health and social services for people experiencing homelessness, especially those who are suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues. Meister also pointed to the methods used by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which repurposes motels for housing, as a potential way forward.
“I think this is something we should be looking at, and we should be [maybe putting] pressure on the county to come up with some thoughts about how we can attain those properties, and maybe not only some ideas, but maybe some money for that,” Meister said.
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