Homelessness Is On The Rise Throughout California
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In California, homelessness is on the rise. Numbers released today in Los Angeles County show a 12% increase, with about 59,000 people living on the streets or in cars. Anna Scott from member station KCRW reports that one of the problems is a steady flow of people becoming homeless for the first time.
ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Six years ago, Renea Baca moved from New Mexico to Los Angeles to live with her boyfriend and become an actress. She booked her first gig pretty quickly, appearing in a music video for the British band Bastille.
RENEA BACA: So I figured, OK, three weeks. I'm here. Like, all my dreams are going to magically come true. I'm going to get rich. I'm going to get famous.
SCOTT: That didn't happen. And then her boyfriend got sick. In 2016, he died. For a while, she cobbled together a living, acting and waitressing at a coffee shop until, she says, the shop closed with no notice.
BACA: So I was like, yo, when were you going to tell me that I was going to have to look for a new job? My rent's due in two weeks. Like, I only have half of my rent. So what's going to happen?
SCOTT: She ended up leaving her apartment. For the past few months, she's been crashing on a friend's floor in North Hollywood and occasionally sleeps in her car. On a recent afternoon, she sat at a park picnic table and flipped through fliers from nonprofits she's contacted for housing help, with no luck.
BACA: Literally called everywhere. Housing Assistance - I've called all these places.
SCOTT: Because she usually stays with a friend, LA County doesn't technically consider her homeless on most nights. And this is what it generally looks like when people lose housing - not a sudden tumble onto the streets, but a slow, downward slide.
EMILY UYEDA KANTRIM: People who are falling into homelessness for the first time don't necessarily identify with the concept that they are homeless.
SCOTT: Emily Uyeda Kantrim runs Safe Parking L.A., a nonprofit that helps people living in cars, many of them homeless for the first time. She says it's tough to get things like rental vouchers for her clients because the county generally prioritizes people who've been homeless longer. Kantrim says that's frustrating because the longer someone goes without a real home, the more likely it is that their problems snowball.
UYEDA KANTRIM: Why would we as a society wait for them to go through additional traumas and then have higher needs to address them?
PHIL ANSELL: Because the inflow of people into homelessness is so great, it's really important that we try to help people, frankly, with the least resources necessary.
SCOTT: Phil Ansell is in charge of LA County's homelessness programs. He says, for every person included in the homeless count, tens of thousands more go through short bouts of homelessness that they're able to climb out of on their own. And, Ansell says, officials are housing more people than ever before, even as homelessness rises.
ANSELL: Those two things are both true. That is a horrifying number of people on the streets and a bigger number than ever of people moving from homelessness into permanent housing because of the flow of people into homelessness.
SCOTT: That flow continues because in Los Angeles, there aren't enough affordable places to live. That's what Renea Baca worries about. She can't afford a regular apartment, with the average one bedroom in LA County going for more than $1,700 a month. Recently, she looked into applying for a Section 8 low-income rental voucher.
BACA: They said that they're going to be booked for the next 10 years.
SCOTT: So she signed up to be an Uber driver because she didn't have a car, but could lease one through the company.
BACA: At least if I have a car, I have some sort of shelter. I don't want to end up in a situation where I have nowhere to go.
SCOTT: This summer, LA County officials plan to start offering emergency one-time grants meant to help people like Baca from falling into homelessness. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.