by City of Long Beach
Number of people experiencing homelessness increased during pandemic; more people moved to interim housing than anytime in previous years.
Long Beach, CA – Findings of the 2022 Homeless Point in Time Count, the first count conducted in two years due to the pandemic, reveal that Long Beach identified 3,296 people experiencing homelessness on February 24, 2022. While many remain unsheltered, more people than ever before are living in emergency shelters or interim housing, a testament to the City’s commitment to ending street homelessness and providing supportive services that will help people get back on their feet.
“The pandemic has made our local and statewide homelessness crisis even more challenging. There’s no bigger issue and we must continue helping as many people as possible and getting them into shelter and housing,” said Mayor Robert Garcia.
Those living in encampments or on the street increased by 22% while those living in a vehicle was up by 380%. The number of people experiencing homelessness who are now living in interim housing has increased by 123% (those living in interim housing are still defined as homeless). 78% of people were living in Long Beach and Los Angeles County before becoming homeless, and more than 90% became homeless in California.
“Despite the unprecedented hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that have exacerbated the unhoused community, the City has continued to make sheltering, housing and offering resources to people experiencing homelessness a top priority,” said City Manager Tom Modica. “I’m moved by the continued efforts of our Homeless Services team, but we know more must be done, both locally and at the state and national levels, to address this crisis.”
Addressing the issue of homelessness is a leading priority for the City. Long Beach has taken a multipronged approach, working across departments to provide services for people experiencing homelessness as well as those at risk of becoming homeless.
“These are our residents, and they need our help,” said Kelly Colopy, Health Department Director. “We continue to expand our services and partners to bring case management and services to those who are unhoused, focusing on mental health, substance use and health as well as employment and housing.”
Since 2020, the City has tremendously increased the number of interim beds, going from 60 to 530, approximately. The City has long maintained a winter shelter during the coldest months, and since 2020 has added 344 non-congregate interim housing beds via Project Roomkey and Project Homekey, plus 125 new congregate interim housing beds via the Atlantic Bridge Community. In addition to providing a safe place to sleep, these shelters are designed to match people to housing options as they become available, with supportive services to help individuals move into permanent housing as quickly as possible. The City also shelters 40 to 60 people per night in motels. Additionally, the City plans to build modular shelters (tiny homes) for people experiencing homelessness in the coming months and is in the process of purchasing a new Project Homekey site.
Affordable housing units with supportive services for people experiencing homelessness has increased since 2020. The Spark at Midtown, Bloom at Magnolia, Vistas Del Puerto and Las Ventanas have collectively added 124 units, and another 209 are in development. The Long Beach Housing Authority also has been allocated 582 Emergency Housing Vouchers for people experiencing homelessness and at risk of homelessness. These vouchers include supportive services through other funding that the City received and, to date, more than 130 people have moved into housing.
Outreach efforts also have increased over the past two years. Outreach staff has quadrupled, from four people, in 2020, to 16 at present with more outreach staff coming on board soon. Additionally, in the past three years, the overall number of staff serving within the Homeless Services Division has increased from 25 to 80, and the City has increased the homeless services budget from $10 million nearly $80 million.
This year, more than 1,200 (40%) people experiencing homelessness report serious mental illness, and 951 (34%) report substance use issues. The Health Department has convened a mental health advisory group to see how the City can increase access to services in Long Beach. Additionally, the City launched Restorative Engagement to Achieve Collective Health (REACH) last year as an alternative response to certain calls for service related to people experiencing homelessness; the REACH teams focus on increasing access to mental and physical health services as well as housing and case management resources. The Long Beach City Council has also moved to support the Governor’s CARE Court model, which would allow for a court-ordered mental health treatment plan for those with untreated schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders who meet specific criteria.
Economic factors leading to homelessness have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Long Beach’s unemployment went from 4.5% in 2019 to 13% in 2020. Meanwhile, rents continue to rise, especially in traditionally affordable neighborhoods. Over the past five years, rents have risen by 40% in 90813, 35% in 90804 and 32% in 90805. Overall, 43.7% of people surveyed reported unemployment or financial reasons as the main contributing factor for their homelessness. The City of Long Beach has utilized $81 million of Long Beach Recovery Act funding for programs that provide vital upstream safety nets to stem people from falling into homelessness.
More than 27% of people surveyed report family or relationship problems as the reason they are now experiencing homelessness. The United Nations has described the rise in domestic violence over the past two years as a shadow pandemic – with violence against women, especially, having risen globally during the COVID-19 pandemic. Locally, we have also seen evidence that domestic violence has grown: the number of people experiencing homelessness in Long Beach who report being victims of domestic violence has risen threefold since 2020 – from 217 to 678.
The Health Department is also working on upstream measures to prevent future homelessness. Initiatives include a new re-entry program that will connect formerly incarcerated people with the services they need to get back on their feet and stop the prison-to-homelessness pipeline. Other programs include family supports, violence prevention and programs that support the LGBTQ+ community.
While the City has been working diligently to do what it can to shelter people experiencing homelessness, including working with various partners throughout the city, there is a need for additional cooperation with landowners in the city. Street homelessness would be reduced if more motel owners would be willing to accept City motel vouchers. There is also a pressing need for landlords to accept housing vouchers. Currently, there are 400 people experiencing homelessness who have housing vouchers but can’t find landlords willing to accept these vouchers. If more landlords were willing to rent to people holding vouchers, the unsheltered rate of homelessness would drop by 20% and overall homelessness would fall by 15%.
The 2022 Homeless Count was conducted in the early hours of February 24 with the help of 250 volunteers. A mandatory orientation session before the count provided technical training for data collection and engagement techniques, and the volunteers were led by experienced guides.
The full report from the 2022 Homeless Count, along with more detailed information about what the City is doing to help people experiencing homelessness, is available at longbeach.gov/everyonehomelb.
Jennifer Rice Epstein
Public Affairs Officer
Department of Health and Human Services