This Friday, LAHSA announced yet another staggering increase in homelessness. From 2019 to 2020, the City of Los Angeles’ unhoused population increased by 14.2%, from 36,165 to 41,290. The total number of people experiencing homelessness in LA County is 66,433. The people of Los Angeles have said time and time again that homelessness is the number one issue facing our city, yet our leaders continue to fail us as they prioritize criminalization over proven solutions. These numbers are particularly horrifying because they reflect the most minimal impact of homelessness in our city. Sweeps that displace people before and during the count lead to discrepancies, and the subsequent economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not reflected by January’s point-in-time count. 

Housing policy in Los Angeles is deeply broken. As new luxury apartments are constructed in Koreatown and around the city, the number of people living on our streets climbs higher. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to even more economic hardship among already rent-burdened Angelenos. We know that families are struggling, that tenants can’t pay rent, that workers can’t work. We also know our leaders have done the bare minimum to respond to the pandemic and make sure that more people do not become homeless as a result. In April, city council declined to pass strong eviction protections for tenants, all but ensuring a wave of post-pandemic evictions. 

Today’s numbers are an indictment of LA’s elected leadership. In response to how they will help unhoused people, our officials have paid mere lip service. As reflected by Mayor Garcetti’s 2020-2021 budget, which sets aside $3 billion to LAPD and only $400 million to homelessness, LA’s leaders are committed to the inhumane and failed policy of criminalization rather than housing and services. 

Continuing to prioritize policies that privilege business interests and property owners over poor and working-class Angelenos ensures we will never pull out of our current tailspin. Activists and organizations across LA are offering alternatives: 

  • The Services Not Sweeps coalition has demonstrated how to replace criminalization with a public health model that will make our streets safer and cleaner and connect services to more of our unhoused neighbors. 
  • The Healthy LA coalition has fought for rent cancellation and protections for workers. 
  • The No Vacancy CA coalition has called for immediately housing all unhoused Californians in vacant hotel and residential units. 
  • Advocates for the Homes Guarantee are reviving public housing and pushing to transform the investment-driven housing system that has led us to this crisis. 
  • The People’s Budget LA coalition has offered a comprehensive rethinking of our city budget that prioritizes the people’s needs. 

As thousands across the city take to the streets chanting “defund the police,” it’s long past time for our elected officials at every level to reinvest in our community.