Homelessness is booming mostly in LA. Why?

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The latest homeless count for L.A. County was a big one – the population jumped by 23 percent over last year.

But if you thought homelessness is booming throughout Southern California, think again.

In Orange County, it rose just 7 percent in the course of two years.

Meanwhile in San Bernardino County, it actually fell by a very slight amount since 2016.

"I think the strategies that are being deployed are pretty consistent across the region," says Peter Lynn, executive director of the LA Homeless Services Authority.

But Lynn argues that there's one thing that sets Los Angeles County apart from its neighbors: the skyrocketing cost of housing.

"L.A.'s housing market is the most cost-burdened in America," he says, "and when the housing market jumps, it pushes a lot of people out of their housing."

Wages in L.A. County haven't kept up with the pace of rent increases either, he adds, and the area has the highest poverty rate of any county in California.

One might think an alternate explanation for the rise is that homeless people are migrating into L.A. County for a variety of reasons: more services, proximity to the beach, a difference in policing policies, etc.

"That's not actually the case," says Lynn. "The overwhelming majority of people became homeless here in Los Angeles County."

According to LAHSA's surveys, 75 percent of those on the streets had been living in the county for more than five years. And Lynn says neighboring communities have a comparable amount of services for the homeless.

But if the high cost of housing is contributing to the rise of homelessness, then listeners will remember that voters in L.A. city and county passed measures H and HHH to invest hundreds of millions of dollars for helping those already homeless.

Lynn says those measures are still valuable, even if they don't address the cause.

"Those are going to be very important for keeping people from getting trapped in homelessness," he says, "but without easing the tight housing market, we're going to be at a disadvantage in facing homelessness."