As the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved to make big investments Tuesday toward stemming the county’s homelessness crisis, they voted to direct more of that money to support the growing number of youth experiencing homelessness.
Youth homelessness in L.A. County rose 22 percent from the previous year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).
Tuesday’s motion, authored by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis, calls for the county to direct an additional 10 percent of L.A. County’s share of a $650 million state homelessness fund to address youth homelessness in the county. Passed as part of the 2019-20 state budget, the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention Program (HHAP) mandates that counties set aside at least 8 percent of these funds to address youth homelessness. L.A. County will now chip in 18 percent for youth homelessness, or $11.8 million, of a $65 million total.
“Youth homelessness is solvable, but we have not dedicated sufficient funding to solving it,” Solis and Hahn write in their motion, pointing out that youth account for more than 8 percent of the homeless population and the funding needs to match.
Several youth advocates shared their stories of homelessness at the meeting and expressed what the increase in funding would mean to them.
“I’m constantly job searching and applying for employment, but I feel like I’m suffocating,” said 20-year-old Dimitri Dunn, who is in extended foster care but is living out of a shelter now. “I live in a constant state of fear about whether or not I’ll have a place to lay my head. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Most of the HHAP funds allocated to addressing youth homelessness will actually be focused on enhancing services for young adults aged 18 to 24. Some of the funds will bolster rent subsidies and short-term crisis and bridge housing programs that will serve youth as well as the general homeless population.
Youth Homelessness Underestimated
The HHAP funds are a one-time, $650 million block grant from the state signed off on by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2018. Of this, Los Angeles County will receive $65 million in total.
The county allocations are in large part determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) homelessness counts, according to the state’s Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency. Applications for the funding opened following the early January release of HUD’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR).
HUD’s AHAR figures come from point-in-time counts each January which capture individuals staying in a shelter or spotted by volunteers counting the people they see sleeping on the streets. According to the AHAR, 19 percent of people identified by the yearly point-in-time homeless count were children and an additional 8 percent were young adults between 18 and 24.
But experts widely consider HUD’s data to undercount youth homelessness based on the differences in the ways homelessness is experienced by children, youth and families.
Homeless families with young children often avoid sleeping in the streets or in shelters for fear of safety and child protective services, according to SchoolHouse Connection, a national nonprofit focused on homelessness among children. Instead, they stay in motels or with family or friends. Unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness are more likely to live in their cars or “couch surf.” People in these living arrangements, though technically homeless, would likely not be identified through the point-in-time counts.
Other federal and local agencies report much higher — and increasing — rates of youth homelessness. The U.S. Department of Education identified more than 1.5 million homeless youth enrolled in public schools during the 2017-18 school year.
The struggle with homelessness hits particularly hard among current and former foster youth, and advocates at the meeting applauded the supervisors for focusing funds on transition aged youth, for whom there is a severe shortage of housing, according to Shantel Vachani, a senior policy attorney with the Alliance for Children’s Rights.
“The point of extended foster care was to disrupt the foster care to homelessness pipeline, yet one in four of these young people have experienced homelessness while in foster care,” said Lindsay Verity, an attorney for foster youth at the Children’s Law Center, at the meeting.
L.A.’s Path to Ending Homelessness
The homelessness fund is the latest in a series of actions taken by state and local governments in California to mitigate the growing crisis in Los Angeles and other areas.
In 2016, Los Angeles City voters approved Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond to increase the supply of supportive housing, which in theory combines affordable housing with social services like mental health care and workforce assistance.
In 2017, voters in L.A. County approved Measure H, which increased sales tax by a quarter cent to create an estimated ongoing funding stream of $355 million annually for 10 years for housing, rental subsidies and programs to help people become housed.
But progress has been slow-going. Three years after Prop HHH passed, just one housing project is in service so far. In that time, the homeless population among both youth and adults has steadily grown.
“When you’re homeless, your whole world stops,” said Taneil Franklin, a 19-year-old youth advocate with the Opportunity Youth Collective (OYC), during the meeting. Franklin has been homeless several times throughout her life, especially during childhood, and wanted the supervisors to understand the urgency behind the need for more focus on serving homeless youth.
“I wanted them to understand how stuck we are,” she told The Chronicle of Social Change after the meeting.
Franklin suggested that in addition to increasing the supply of affordable housing, providing supportive services like mental health care and child care to help parenting youth finish school and hold a job are keys to helping them stabilize for the long term.
“We need to give them more than just the fight for survival,” said Brisia Gutierrez, an advocate with the Alliance for Children’s Rights and OYC, at the meeting. “I can guarantee that if you invest in our youth today that the future will look a little brighter.”