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Rising youth numbers swell county homeless system

HOLLYWOOD — The county’s homeless services system is housing more young people than ever before, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which held a briefing on homeless youth July 31 at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Young people facing homelessness face some of the same issues their older counterparts face, officials said. Many landlords and property managers are refusing to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, which often expire before people using them they can find a home.

“That’s discrimination and it’s malarkey,” said Sage Johnson, a peer advocate at the LGBT Center and a Homeless Youth Forum of Los Angeles member. “Communities are blocking shelters from being built in their neighborhoods and blocking the housing. … I’m glad the providers in this room are doing the work that they do everyday. You’re all saving lives of literally thousands.”

According to the Homeless Services Authority’s 2019 count, conducted in January, the numbers of youth without a home increased 17% in the city of Los Angeles and 22% in Los Angeles County, compared to the overall homeless rate which grew by 12% in the county and 16% within Los Angeles city limits.

The agency’s data shows about 6,000 youth became homeless in 2018. Around 2,050 youth were placed into housing last year compared to 1,732 in 2017.

“The youth count has let us understand the needs of homeless youth better in large part because those same youth have been directly involved in both the execution and design of the count every year,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the Homeless Services Authority.  “They’re overwhelmingly youth of color and they identify themselves as LGTBQ in much greater proportions than either the general homeless population or the adult homeless population.”

The results of the count found 92% of youth indicate a “fragile social network” as the reason for their homeless situation. Other factors include economic hardship, disabilities and system discharge. About one out of two youths have experienced homelessness more than once.

The count also found those involved in foster care, the justice system and mandated stay in mental health facilities are more likely to fall into homelessness. Additionally, the majority of them — around 52% — have lived in Los Angeles County for more than 10 years.

In the last three years, the Homeless Services Authority has added 184 transitional housing beds — a total of more than 700 beds — and more than 500 rapid rehousing slots. There are more services and collaboration with over 45 providers with one database that youth have equitable access to resources via accessing services of any of the agencies throughout the county. The help has gotten more specific to each person’s need and more towards trauma-informed care.

“This data we get from the youth count is so important to create programs and secure funding for those programs,” said Ely Sepulveda, regional coordinator for Safe Place for Youth, a Venice-based agency that deals with homeless youth.

“With that in mind, I think its possible to end youth homelessness. We need more funding though, we need more housing and more upstream policy work.”

To achieve that goal, the Homeless Service Authority is focusing on increasing connections to education by partnering with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Employment is another priority and the authority is working with workforce partners to create job-training programs, paid internships and expand subsidized employment, while building new connections to the foster and probation system.

“We are all safer when people are not living in the streets. It’s better for everyone,” said Johnson of the Homeless Youth Forum.  “We need more housing and shelters all across L.A. It takes a village and the village needs to come together.”

Advocates urge residents to help by supporting youth interim housing, volunteering at local homeless service agencies, advocating for expanded state and federal funding for affordable housing and even becoming a host home for a youth.

Landlords can help by accepting Section 8 vouchers and making their units available for rapid rehousing.

“A lot of times people think the cause of someone being homeless is because of all the stereotypes, like drugs, alcohol and laziness, but those are just stuff that keeps people homeless in the city,” said Travis Crown, a peer advocate at the LGBT Center and a member of the Homeless Youth Forum’s advisory board. He had been living in L.A. for two years when he went homeless, so he knows the struggle.

“Housing is the most important [solution] 100%,” Crown said. “So many youth check in with me and they want to get into housing, but there might not be space available and they get on a waiting list and they wait and wait. We need more space available for them.”