Los Angeles is home to about 58,000 homeless people at this juncture in time. Of that number, about 66 percent are not sheltered. About 38,000 people are not situated in homeless shelters, and similar programs, but are living on the streets. This includes men, women, and children who are located in homeless encampments.
Recently, there has been a considerable amount of discussion and debate about the number of t tents seen in Los Angeles homeless encampments.
Misconceptions Regarding Tent Cities
One widespread belief across Los Angeles is that the city, county, or both entities have been providing tents to homeless individuals. Accompanying this belief is that the city, county, or both entities are also providing homeless people some type of monthly cash stipend.
Representatives of both the city and county governments state that there exists no program through which homeless people in the greater Los Angeles area are provided tents by the government or at taxpayer expense. They did note that there is always a possibility that a homeless individual, particularly a homeless family, might occasionally be provided with a tent.
Such a situation would likely arise if an organization in the community had tents that it wanted to provide to homeless people. The city and county representatives both indicated that a possibility exists that such an organization might provide tents to the city or county free of charge for distribution to homeless people.
Both the city and county denied that there is any program through which homeless people in the greater Los Angeles area are provided cash stipends of any kind via either level of government or associated agencies. In fact, representatives from both the city and county indicated that a cash stipend of this nature would be illegal.
In addition, these governmental reps noted that the city and county would not accept money from an outside organization to provide to homeless people. No city or county ordinance prevents an independent organization from giving cash to homeless people. However, the representatives made it clear that they knew of no organizations that provided homeless people cash. They noted that doing so would not be a recommended practice and likely would be against the rules of a particular private sector organization.
Balancing Act Between Legitimate Needs of Homeless People and Reasonable Expectations of the Rest of the Community
The Los Angeles Times succinctly enumerated the balancing act between the legitimate needs of the homeless and the reasonable expectations of other members of the community:
The city and county must find a way to balance effectively the needs and rights of homeless people against the demands and expectations of everyone else. Respecting the rights of homeless people doesn’t mean consigning the sidewalks and parks permanently to tents and shopping carts, just as respecting the rights of property owners doesn’t mean rousting the unsheltered and shuffling them from one neighborhood to the next. Instead, what is needed are reasonable compromises that protect the health, safety and basic needs of homeless people while ensuring the community’s ability to function day in and day out. That, in turn, requires residents and businesses not just to accept the presence of homeless people, but to have a stake in getting them off the streets and into housing.
Unfortunately, delineating this balancing act in writing is a far easier thing to do than implementing it in reality.
The Partial Illusion of More Tents
The reality is that there very well may be more tents in homeless encampments throughout Los Angeles. The homeless population in the city and county has been growing at a fairly rapid rate. Between 2013 and 2017 the homeless population in Los Angeles grew an astounding (and alarming) 46 percent. Thus, as the number of homeless people spiked upward, there certainly were more people living in encampments that had tents.
Another development within the homeless community has resulted in the perception that more tents are present in encampments. Over the course of the past several years, homeless encampments have migrated from areas in the community in which they historically have been found. Because of their historic location in central Los Angeles, the vast majority of residents in the city and county didn’t encounter homeless encampments regularly.
Rev. Andy J. Bales, the Chief Executive Officer of the Union Rescue Mission notes that homelessness now can be seen in virtually any neighborhood in Los Angeles. Homelessness, including homeless encampments, has become more visible to a broader segment of the community. Homeless people and associated encampments are now appearing nearly everywhere in the greater Los Angeles area. Bales noted that when a homeless encampment “appears in the Palisades, people start paying attention.”
Taking into account that there are some additional tents as the homeless population grows, a key reason why some people honestly believe there has been a significant increase in the number of homeless tents is a result of visibility. As the migration occurs, it results in an understandable perception that there are more tents rather than tents moved to different locations in the LA area.