Slowest Growth in Homelessness Since 2020; Number of people experiencing homelessness increased 4.6%, or 151 individuals
Findings of the 2023 Homeless Point in Time Count reveal that Long Beach identified 3,447 people experiencing homelessness in January 2023, compared with 3,296 people in 2022. This number signifies a 4.6% increase from last year, the smallest increase Long Beach has reported since 2019. For reference, homelessness increased 7% from 2019 to 2020, and increased from 62% from 2020 to 2022 (the 2021 Count was canceled due to the pandemic).
“While the slowdown in growth reflected in the point in time count is encouraging, we must remain focused on the urgent need to address the systemic causes of homelessness,” said Mayor Rex Richardson. “Together, we can continue to make a difference and ensure that every member of our community has a place to call home.”
The 2023 Homeless Count, which was conducted on Jan. 26, just 16 days after the emergency was proclaimed, will be used as the yardstick by which policies and programs instituted during the emergency will be measured. In comparison to the 2022 Count, the number of people experiencing first-time homelessness increased by 18%, from 1,549 to 1,827. 53% of those surveyed report experiencing their first episode of homelessness, while 39% are experiencing chronic homelessness. Of the surveyed respondents who are experiencing first-time homelessness, 59% are sheltered, 18% are living in a vehicle and 19% report experiencing homelessness for less than a year. An analysis found that those experiencing homelessness for the first time are more inclined to accept shelter.
The largest percentage of those surveyed identified as Latinx (35.2%), followed by Black (32.4%) and white (23.1%). Those living in encampments or on the street increased minimally by 6%. People experiencing homelessness who are now living in interim housing has decreased by 2% due to the reduction in non-congregate shelter funding for programs, such as Project Roomkey, which allowed for master leasing of motels. Those living in interim housing are still defined as homeless. 83.4% of people were living in Long Beach and Los Angeles County before becoming homeless, and 91.4% became homeless in California.
Despite the small increase in the overall population of people experiencing homelessness, there was a 20% reduction in veterans experiencing homelessness, from 451 in 2022 to 361 this year, reflecting a concerted coordination between the City of Long Beach, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other partnering agencies to find permanent housing for veterans.
“Addressing the issue of homelessness is of top priority in Long Beach,” said City Manager Tom Modica. “The City is working diligently and has taken a number of meaningful actions to tackle the crisis, working across departments and collaborating with regional partners, but we know there is much more work to be done and we will remain steadfast in our efforts.”
Since 2020, the City has significantly increased the number of locally funded interim beds, going from 60 to 520. The City has long maintained a winter shelter during the coldest months, and since 2020 has added 317 non-congregate interim housing beds via Project Homekey and other grant programs, plus 125 new congregate interim housing beds via the Atlantic Farms Bridge Housing 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 people move into permanent housing as quickly as possible.
Further, this year, the City’s Multi-Service Center was temporarily utilized to offer 60 warming beds each night for people experiencing homelessness to have a warm and safe place to sleep through the consistently cold and wet months experienced this past winter. And earlier this month, the City announced plans to open a new temporary emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The shelter will offer more than 85 beds and several amenities and services through July 28, 2023.
Since January 2022, the City has also sheltered approximately 57 people per night in motels. In November 2022, the City acquired the 78-bed Luxury Inn, which is expected to open by the end of the year. In addition, plans are underway for the development of 33 new modular non-congregate shelter units, known as Tiny Homes, to safely house people experiencing homelessness. Long Beach is committed to providing shelter beds to its residents who are unhoused, both through municipal shelters and beds provided by its partners, and will continue exploring new opportunities for additional interim housing as well as permanent supportive housing. Currently, there are approximately 1,300 beds across Long Beach provided by the City and its partners.
The Development Services Department, together with The Long Beach Community Investment Company, has continued to ensure the production of new affordable housing units with supportive services for people experiencing homelessness. The Spark at Midtown, Bloom at Magnolia, Vistas Del Puerto and Las Ventanas have collectively added 121 units; and another 190 are in development. Further, two new projects have recently been proposed, which would provide an additional 156 new units for those who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The City is dedicated to engaging local housing providers in meaningful discussions to explore new creative strategies to aid in efforts to combat homelessness.
Outreach efforts have also continued to expand significantly. The Department of Health and Human Services (Health Department) Outreach staff has more than quadrupled, from four people in 2020 to 18 at present, with a total of 27 positions budgeted. Over the past three years, the total number of staff serving within the Homeless Services Bureau has increased from 25 to 90 once fully staffed, and the Bureau’s budget has increased from $10 million to nearly $50 million in annual services with significant capital funding to create long-term interim and permanent housing capacity. Earlier this month, the Health Department was awarded $5.2 million to support the City’s rapid rehousing and permanent housing efforts for people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, the Housing Authority of the City of Long Beach has allocated a total of 582 Emergency Housing Vouchers to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. These vouchers include supportive services through other funding that the City has received and, to date, more than 539 people have moved into housing.
“The Health Department leads a multi-pronged, coordinated approach to provide thoughtful and compassionate service-based solutions,” said Health Department Director Kelly Colopy. “The additional support brought on by the emergency proclamation enables us to continue expanding capacity and service delivery for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”
A critical component of addressing and preventing the homelessness crisis is better understanding the major causes of first-time homelessness. Of surveyed respondents who are newly homeless, 43% report domestic violence as the leading cause for experiencing homelessness. Research shows that domestic violence is one of the main drivers into homelessness, particularly for women, in Los Angeles County, a reality that has been exacerbated by 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 in their lifetime has risen tremendously since 2020 – from 217 to 949.
While construction and investment have increased to pre-pandemic levels over the past year and the unemployment rate dropped from 13% in 2020 to 4.4% in 2022, rising rents have worsened the homelessness crisis. Overall, 35.4% of people surveyed reported unemployment or financial reasons as the main contributing factor for their homelessness – a 9% decrease when compared to the 2022 Count.
This year, 34.7% of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness report having a serious mental illness, and 31.8% report having a substance use disorder. The Health Department has convened a mental health advisory group to explore ways to increase access to services in Long Beach. The City has also committed to adding a third Restorative Engagement to Achieve Collective Health (REACH) team with extended hours, providing alternative response to certain calls for services related to people experiencing homelessness.
Additionally, the Long Beach Police Department doubled its Quality of Life (QOL) team, with eight full-time QOL officers specifically trained to assist people experiencing homelessness and augment citywide efforts to address homelessness. So far, in 2023, the QOL team has engaged with over 2,800 people experiencing homelessness, leading to 91 people receiving temporary housing and six people moving into permanent housing. The QOL team also participated in more than 250 clean-ups throughout the city, a critical component to public health and safety that is done in conjunction with meaningful outreach to people experiencing homelessness conducted by Homeless Services Bureau staff.
Addressing the issue of homelessness is a leading priority for the City. On Jan. 10, 2023, the Long Beach City Council proclaimed a state of emergency for homelessness in Long Beach. Since then, the City has established an Incident Command structure, led jointly by the Health Department and Public Works Department and comprised of nine work groups consisting of more than 100 City staff to take on the various aspects of homelessness emergency response and taking several notable actions to tackle the homelessness crisis.
The City’s Mobile Access Center (MAC) extended its outreach efforts in different areas of the city. This enables staff to conduct meaningful engagement and start the intake process right on the street. To date, the MAC has 921 recorded engagements with people experiencing homelessness, and of those engagements, services have been provided to more than 500 people, including referral and transport to shelter, enrollment into the homeless services system, connections to community resources and basic medical services.
Long Beach is continuing to support people who are unhoused and currently sheltering in vehicles. The City last month expanded its Safe Parking Program, which provides a safe, dignified environment for people to park overnight while receiving access to basic needs and being connected to services. The City also continues to operate a sanitation and water-filling site for people experiencing homelessness and living in recreational vehicles, allowing people to properly dispose of sewage and access clean water and filling stations.
The City also launched a new Long Beach Homelessness Text Alert program to connect residents who are unhoused with housing and support services and other resources. The new communications method will enhance the City’s existing outreach by providing timely updates directly to people needing the services, as research indicates a significant number of people experiencing homelessness have cell phones. This additional method of outreach will increase the City’s direct access to these individuals and connect even more to housing and support services. Those interested in signing up to receive text notifications can text keyword HOME to 99411.
And a new data dashboard was unveiled in March 2023 showcasing local homelessness data, including demographics of people experiencing homelessness and data on the various housing and support services offered by the City. The dashboard is being used to further inform the City’s ongoing efforts to address the homelessness crisis and support the City’s mission to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Long Beach by increasing housing opportunities, enhancing current initiatives and addressing and improving overall public safety for the entire community.
More than 300 volunteers came together in the early hours on the day of the homeless count to participate in this important work. 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 2023 Homeless Count, along with more detailed information about what the City is doing to help people experiencing homelessness, is available on the City’s homelessness website under the Annual Homeless Count tab.
For more information on the City’s efforts to reduce homelessness in Long Beach, people may visit longbeach.gov/homelessness and follow @lbhealthdept and @longbeachcity on social media and follow the hashtag #EveryoneHomeLB.
By City of Long Beach Joint Information Center
What about the homeless who work but can’t afford to pay $1,500 a month for a studio apt? Basically couch surfing isn’t considered as homeless either so what about helping the low income people get into affordable housing?