Thank you for taking this opportunity to dig deeper into the issue of homelessness.
We hope that this provides some context for your volunteering and that by learning more about the root causes of homelessness, you will become a more powerful advocate for those who experience it.
What is homelessness?
Homelessness or houselessness is the state of being unhoused or unsheltered in a safe, stable or adequate way.
There are three documented types of homelessness: chronic, transitional, and episodic.
A fourth type of homelessness, “hidden homelessness,” often goes unreported. It refers to people temporarily living with others with no guarantee that they will be able to stay long-term and without immediate prospects for acquiring permanent housing. This frequently describes those staying with friends or relatives because they lack access to housing support resources. Couch-surfing is a common example of hidden homelessness.
Who does homelessness impact?
The homelessness crisis is on the rise and impacts people from nearly every community in the country.
According to The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and the Mayor’s Office, the rise in homelessness is due to a complex multitude of issues including:
How COVID widened the gap.
Due to the spread of COVID-19 across countries, vulnerable and marginalized populations have been adversely impacted, including specific ethnic minorities and migrant groups, as well as those with low income and socioeconomic status. Health disparities exist between these groups and have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which was triggered by complex socioeconomic factors and long-standing structural inequalities.
How has COVID-19 affected homelessness?
Those already at risk due to the rising costs of living outpacing wages in conjunction with systemic racism in housing, healthcare, criminal justice, and economic policy were disproportionately impacted by the economic impact of COVID-19. In other words, the most vulnerable members of our community were hardest hit by the pandemic recession and thereby the most likely to become unhoused.
Why do some say "unhoused" and "people experiencing homelessness" instead of "homeless?"
In mainstream discourse, “homeless” has been the standard for years. However, “homeless” is a status, not a character trait. The term “homeless” has derogatory connotations that can dehumanize and place blame on those experiencing homelessness. With this in mind, there has been a shift by the CDC, local officials, and activists to people-centered terms such as houseless/unhoused/person experiencing homelessness.
While we recognize words are a small part of the picture, using language that extends empathy to the unhoused is the first step to changing attitudes around the homelessness crisis and making policy changes.
Why is learning about this important?
It is important to remember that homelessness can happen to anyone at any time. Homelessness affects the health of our entire community, millions of people worldwide, and continues to be a growing problem.
The first step in solving a problem is to educating ourselves about the subject matter to come up with solutions. By empowering our friends, families, and community members to learn about this issue, we ideally get closer to finding solutions that could lead to ending homelessness.
Homelessness & Race
Homelessness is a complex issue, but it's crucial to understand that not all populations are affected the same.
In 2020, Black people represented only 8% of the general population in Los Angeles County yet comprised 34% of the population experiencing homelessness. Similarly, while the Indigenous population in Los Angeles County represents only 0.2% of the population, they comprise 1.1% of the population experiencing homelessness.
Why is someone 4 to 5 times more likely to be unhoused based on their race?
To understand how systemic racism plays a role in communities of color being disproportionately affected by housing and economic security and homelessness, it is helpful to look at the historical practice of redlining. Redlining is the discriminatory practice of withholding services from neighborhoods deemed undesirable and there is a direct connection between the historical practice of redlining and today’s homelessness crisis throughout the United States.
In Los Angeles in 1939, the government-sponsored Home Owners Loan Corporation created a map of Los Angeles that encouraged racially prejudiced mortgage lending, effectively restricting black families to isolated neighborhoods and limiting their upward mobility on a mass scale. Once redlining led a community into deterioration, government officials would begin urban renewal projects that priced the most vulnerable out of their own homes and left them with nowhere to go.
The legacy of institutional practices such as redlining, exemplified by the disproportionate rate of unhoused black Angelenos, is still in effect today. Indeed, in their December 2020 report, The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority confirmed that:
Unfortunately, redlining is just one form of structural racism that leads to the overrepresentation of black people experiencing homelessness. The criminal justice system and child welfare policies also play a role in creating and perpetuating the racial disparities in the unhoused.
“without institutional racism, there would be 15,000 fewer people experiencing homelessness, almost all coming from African-American & Native American populations.”
State of Homelessness
What does homelessness look like nationally?
As of January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America representing 0.2% of the population. Two-thirds of this population live in shelters, while about one-third lives on the streets. Reflective of America’s demographic, the population of people that are unhoused is diverse. However, the risk of homelessness is significantly tied to gender, race, and ethnicity. Many Americans live in poverty, amounting to nearly 34 million people or 10.5 percent of the U.S. population. Here are some additional facts:
Unhoused people have an average life expectancy of just 50 years
Every year, roughly 13,000 unhoused people die in the US
20% of unhoused individuals are children
42% of street children identify as LGBTQ+
40% of all unhoused men are veterans
As seen in the infographic, the largest rate of homelessness is in California, with almost half of the entire unhoused community in the United States living in the state. It is no surprise that Los Angeles County, due to its size, is the county with the largest unhoused population. In 2022, 69,144 people were found to be living on the street in tents, makeshift dwellings, and vehicles across Los Angeles. county during LAHSA's Homeless Count.
According to LAHSA, the systemic drivers of homelessness are:
enduring impacts of systemic racism
inadequate housing supply
Many newly unhoused individuals also cite economic hardship as a significant factor. With the high cost of living in Los Angeles exacerbated by soaring housing costs and low wages, more and more people are falling into homelessness for the first time. 6 out of 10 people experiencing homelessness are now without housing for the first time.
Homelessness continues to remain visible throughout Los Angeles with 75% of people experiencing homelessness lacking permanent shelter, forcing them to make do with makeshift shelters and/or their vehicles.
Organizations working to help:
Sign up for volunteer opportunities to help fight homelessness:
Attend a Los Angeles County Homeless Coalition meeting on homelessness. Each part of the county has their own coalition meetings.
Participate in your Neighborhood Council, and help the unhoused residents in your neighborhood. Your Neighborhood Council likely has a housing and homelessness committee that you can get involved with!
Attend an Affordable Housing Commission meeting. The Commission makes policy recommendations to address the city's housing needs.