Fri, Dec 08, 2017 - Page 9 News List

US’ homeless numbers up for first time in years

The west coast’s booming economy is to blame for its surge in homelessness, with one of the worst consequences being a deadly hepatitis A outbreak

By Christopher Weber and Geoff Mulvihill  /  AP, LOS ANGELES

In the west coast states, the surge in homelessness has become part of the fabric of daily life.

The Monty, a bar in the Westlake neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, usually does not open until 8pm.

Partner and general manager Corey Allen said that is because a nearby shelter requires people staying there to be in the building by 7pm.

Waiting until after that to open means the streets outside are calmer.

Allen said the homeless have come into his bar to bathe in the restroom wash basins, and employees have developed a strategy for stopping people from coming in to panhandle among customers.

Seventy-eight-year-old Theodore Neubauer sees the other side of it.

Neubauer says he served in Vietnam, but now lives in a tent in downtown Los Angeles.

He is surrounded by thriving business and entertainment districts, and new apartments that are attracting scores of young people to the heart of the nation’s second-most populous city.

“Well, there’s a million-dollar view,” he said.

Helping those like Neubauer is a top policy priority and political issue in Los Angeles.

Since last year, voters in the city and Los Angeles County have passed a pair of tax-boosting ballot initiatives to raise an expected US$4.7 billion over the next decade for affordable housing and services for the homeless.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson praised the region for dealing with the issue and not relying solely on the US federal government.

“We need to move a little bit away from the concept that only the government can solve the problem,” he said.

However, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that insufficient federal funding for affordable housing and anti-homelessness programs are part of the reason for the city’s crisis.

“Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis was not created in a vacuum, and it cannot be solved by LA alone,” Garcetti said in a statement.

Excluding the Los Angeles region, total homelessness nationwide would have been down by about 1.5 percent compared with last year.

The California counties of Sacramento, which includes the state capital, and Alameda, which is home to Oakland, also had one-year increases of more than 1,000 homeless people.

In contrast, the HUD report showed a long-running decline in homelessness continuing in most other regions.

Nationally, the overall homeless number was down by 13 percent since 2010 and the unsheltered number has dropped by 17 percent over that seven-year span, although some changes in methodology and definitions over the years can affect comparisons.

Places where the numbers went down included Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, the Denver area and Hawaii, which declared a statewide homelessness emergency in 2015.

The homeless Point-in-Time count is based on counts at shelters and on the streets. While imperfect, it attempts to represent how many people are homeless at a given time.

Those who work regularly with the homeless say it is certainly an undercount, although many advocates and officials believe it correctly identifies trend lines.

The report is submitted to the US Congress and used by government agencies as a factor in distributing money for programs designed to help the homeless.

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