homeless shelter press conference (copy)

Vice Mayor Dee Andrews talks in January at a press conference announcing purchase of property in north Long Beach for a year-round shelter for the homeless. Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson, who facilitated the purchase, listens in the background.

Long Beach saw a slight uptick in the number of homeless people this year compared with 2017, according to data published Tuesday, June 4, though city officials described those numbers as essentially flat because they fell within the margin of error.

The data came from a point-in-time survey conducted four months ago, on a crisp morning in late January, when hundreds of volunteers fanned out across Long Beach to count the number of homeless people on the city’s streets. The survey has historically occurred every two years, but will happen annually from now on.

The city and its volunteers counted 1,894 people who were homeless — a 2% increase from the 1,863 people counted in 2017. City officials noted, however, that the survey has a 3% margin of error, so they described the growth of Long Beach’s homeless population as flat.

But that news came after years of steep declines for the city, and amid the release of Los Angeles County’s numbers, also on Tuesday, which saw a 12% spike overall; Long Beach, Pasadena and Glendale count their homeless populations independent of the county.

Mayor Robert Garcia, during an interview last week, said that he believed Long Beach’s relative stability was because of the work the city has put into addressing homelessness through prevention and outreach.

“I think to remain relatively flat has been an enormous effort by our Health Department, our Fire Department, our community partners, our shelters,” Garcia said, “just everyone that’s been involved from the beginning.”

At the same time, he added, Long Beach is not merely looking to maintain current levels of homelessness. The city’s goal, Garcia said, is to eliminate it.

“We are enthusiastic and feel positive that we remain flat,” he said, “but by no means are we satisfied. Now we’ve got to do a lot more work. We’ve got to redouble our efforts.”

One notable trend, according to Kelly Colopy, Long Beach’s Health and Human Services director, is an 8% decline in the number of people who are chronically homeless.

Being “chronically homeless is where it is the most difficult to serve people and to engage with them,” Colopy said. “So the fact that we’re seeing a reduction there means that, while we are engaging, we’re being more effective.”

The flip side of that statistic, however, is that most people who were surveyed — 52% — said they were experiencing homelessness for the first time. That share is up 9 percentage points from 2017, when about 43% of the people counted said the same.

“A lot of folks that we’re encountering are recently homeless — people that are just coming out, not being able to stay in their home or their apartment, and they’re new on the street,” Garcia said. “That tells us that the prevention work and making sure that people are able to stay in their homes is really, really important.”

The demographics of the tally showed that African Americans are far more likely to be homeless in Long Beach than people of any other race. About 35% of the people counted identified as black, while United States Census estimates show that about 13% of the city’s overall population is black.

The data also showed that the vast majority of people counted, at 69%, were men. About 31% were women, while three people identified as transgender, and two people said they were gender non-conforming.

Other notable findings were that 4% identified as LGBTQ, while another 4% said they were students.

Although the geographic distribution of homeless people didn’t change much from the 2017 count, which showed they had begun to move away from the downtown area and spread out more across Long Beach, this year’s survey still found that people experiencing homelessness are more concentrated in the city’s western half.

These types of breakdowns are important to understand how to better serve the homeless population living in Long Beach, Garcia said. But he also said the bigger picture from this count is clear: People are being forced into homelessness because they can’t afford to stay in their homes — and they have nowhere else to go.

“We’ve got to build more housing, and it’s like no one wants to have this conversation,” he said. “At some point, we’ve got to be honest about: If folks don’t want to build more housing, and folks don’t want more homelessness, those things don’t add up. So if people want to eliminate homelessness, that has to translate into building more housing that’s affordable and accessible.”

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