Business & Economy

Families flooding LA's homeless system at five times the rate of last year

Tandra Dixon's children play during winter break in their South Los Angeles home on Wednesday afternoon. In November 2016, Dixon and her five children moved into this two-bedroom apartment.
Tandra Dixon's children play during winter break in their South Los Angeles home on Wednesday afternoon. In November 2016, Dixon and her five children moved into this two-bedroom apartment.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Listen to story

01:00
Download this story 0.0MB

Nonprofit service providers in L.A.'s family homeless system are seeing five times the number of new clients walk in their doors as they saw last year, and it's massively straining the system.

According to a report presented to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors' homelessness deputies Thursday, the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) is projecting a $13.2 million shortfall in funding to serve families through the end of the fiscal year in June. The LAHSA Commission is expected to vote Friday on whether to shift existing funds around to accommodate the load.

The money would come from Measure H, a 1/4-cent sales tax that kicked in October 1 to provide funds for homeless services. The money has already been allocated to programs, but officials believe they can shift funds around in the short term, and plan accordingly in next year's budget. 

"There's a very substantial inflow of both adults and families into homelessness," said Phil Ansell, head of the county's Homeless Initiative. "That's primarily attributable to the intersection between rising rents, wages that aren't keeping pace, and a critical shortage of affordable housing."

L.A. County's homeless count, which kicked off Tuesday and wrapped up Thursday night, will be the official barometer of whether homelessness is rising or falling in the region. But results from that count likely won't be available until May, and officials did not want to wait to act on the rising demand for housing for families.

"Time is of the essence," said Dhakshike Wickrema, homelessness deputy for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "Some of these providers are going to run out of money in January."

Paul Duncan, LAHSA's associate director of systems integration, said providers served 624 new families in the first quarter of the fiscal year. That's compared to 142 from July through September 2016. Based on those numbers compared to the prior year, LAHSA is expecting another 950 families to enter the homeless system before the end of the fiscal year in June.

Some areas of the county, he said, "are pretty much out of funds" to serve families and have reached a "crisis point." Providers in the San Fernando Valley, Downtown Los Angeles, the West Side, and South L.A. have run out of motel vouchers to give to families.

LAHSA often uses motel vouchers to accommodate families because there's little in the way of shelter space that's appropriate for families with children. $12.2 million of the requested funds would go to motel vouchers. Another $1 million would pay for providers to hire 40 new case managers to handle the new load.

Countywide, caseloads for people working on housing families are about 54 clients each. In some areas of the county, however, workers are taking on considerably more clients. In South L.A., for instance, caseloads are at 158 families per worker. 

Part of the issue has been recruiting. 

As money from Measure H has started flowing in, service providers all over the city have been trying to staff up quickly. But many jobs remain unfilled.

Wickrema said there are about 1,300 Measure H-related jobs that need filling, including everything from drivers, to social workers, to peer counselors.

Duncan said the need for caseworkers for homeless families goes beyond hiring difficulties. Even fully staffed as currently budgeted, caseloads would be around 40 families per worker, well higher than the county's aim of 25 per caseworker.