Los Angeles spends $100 million a year on its 23,000 homeless people—$4,348 per person—but most of the money goes to policing them, not providing assistance.
A new report from the City Administrative Officer (CAO) studied the homeless landscape in 2013 to see how Los Angeles addressed the “serious challenges” of providing shelter, mental health and medical care, protection from disease, security for personal property and other “critical matters.”
That’s not just a benevolent undertaking. The report points out, “The homeless do not live in isolation and, therefore, many of their issues impact businesses, residents and visitors to Los Angeles.”
What the CAO found was an emphasis was on policing, although the first attempt to quantify the city’s efforts was possible only where it was able to “estimate or track spending.”
But even taking the low end of the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) estimated spending assigned them more than half the money. The department estimated it spent between $53.6 million and $87.3 million, “not including costs incurred from patrol officers’ time.”
That didn’t surprise Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network, a skid row advocacy group. “Supports what we've been saying for years that this city is doing almost nothing to advance housing solutions but continues down the expensive and inhumane process of criminalization that only makes the problem worse,” she wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times.
A big chunk of the LAPD money, $6.3 million, was spent on the Mental Evaluation Unit, teams of mental health professionals and officers that respond to police calls. Another $5.6 million is spent on the Safer Cities Initiative—59 officers on Skid Row and another 12 in the Mission District, who roam about, proactively dealing with situations, rather than responding to calls.
The report did not indulge in fingerpointing. Much of what it did was simple fact-finding. They identified 15 city agencies and departments providing homeless services, a much wider range—with much higher costs—than are indicated in the budget. And they found out the homeless like to hang out at the library.
A survey discovered that 92% of 73 Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) branches had 680 to 780 regular homeless patrons. While they all may not be big readers, the fact that they congregate there makes libraries a prime candidate for homeless outreach programs. “Our study found that LAPL’s regular interactions with homelessness, like those of the LAPD, LAFD, Recreation and Parks, and the Bureau of Sanitation, are missed opportunities for better coordination with City-wide and County-wide efforts to end homelessness.”
The report was commissioned by the City Council after the estimated homeless population grew 9% in two years, while homeless advocates complained bitterly about the city’s lack of engagement.
The report concurred. “There appears to be no consistent process across city departments for dealing with the homeless or with homeless encampments,” it states. And it pointed out that the go-to agency for city and county homeless intervention, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), has just 19 people and a tiny budget.