Homelessness is up 4.6% from last year in Long Beach, at 3,447 last count, but the good news is that it represents the smallest increase since 2019.
Mayor Rex Richardson drilled down the 2023 Homeless Point in Time Count results at the last city update, showing homelessness increased by 7% from 2019 to 2020, which also soared 62% from 2020 to 2022.
First time homelessness spiked 18%, with over half, 53% of those surveyed, reporting their first episode of homelessness within the past year. Nearly 60% of the homeless are sheltered, 18% are living in a vehicle and 39% are experiencing chronic homelessness, meaning homeless for over a year due to a disabling condition.
Still, Richardson sees progress beyond the stark numbers.
Interim beds in the city are also up from 60 to 520 since 2020. Through a variety of grants and programs, including Project Homekey, the city added 317 non-congregate interim housing beds through Project Homeke, with 125 new congregate interim housing beds in North Long Beach.
The city’s Multi-Service Center provided 60 night warming beds, with plans to open another temporary shelter of over 85 beds and amenities through July 28.
“In fact, while we are here, staff from across the city are preparing to get this shelter opened. We got the keys just yesterday, and we’re planning to open up tonight so the timing is incredible,” he said during the briefing. “We’ll start with bringing folks over from Community Hospital, that program should be ending around April 30. Once we have those folks settled we’re going to work with homeless Services staff to work with additional unsheltered individuals to make sure that they settle into the new shelter as well.”
The city is also on track to develop 33 new Tiny Homes. In all, there are about 1,300 interim housing beds in the city.
Of the homeless, 2022 Census data shows that Latinx, who make up 43.9% of the city’s general population, was identified as the highest group experiencing homelessness at 35.2%. Blacks were severely disproportionately represented at 12.1% of the general population, but at 32.4% of homeless. Whites who made up 27.8%, were at 23.1% homelessness.
Compared to the 2022 homeless numbers, Kelly Colopy said the new count shows relative stability.
The city increased its shelters and connected people to permanent housing. Their new call center works with landlords to take on housing vouchers. But, as city projects expand temporary and permanent supportive housing, she said that more interim and affordable housing is needed because they can’t build their way out of the crisis.
“If I could snap my fingers and instantly have every person in this city who was unhoused [as housed], it wouldn’t mean that we were at zero because people are experiencing or people fall into homelessness,” said Colopy, the City Health Department Director.
For every person that is housed, she said another becomes homeless, which is why prevention services are essential. It must include financial support for those who have lost houses for the first time and to help prevent evictions. Mental health services need easy accessibility, and getting treatment is crucial, along with connecting older adults to services with food, housing and healthcare.
Prevention is key.
“It looks like working with families to enroll in Medi-Cal so a hospital visit doesn’t mean financial ruin. It also looks like support for Black, Latino and API communities to address issues brought forward after decades of institutional racism and generational trauma,” she said.
Of those questioned about their homelessness, she said 35% attributed it to financial hardship, 27% said it was family disruption and 16% said it was evictions. Over half, 53%, were homeless for the first time, up 6% from last year with one-third of those having become homeless in the past year.
Women or binary gender came in high on the count, as were Latinos and API. More students are homeless, yet fewer veterans. Domestic violence victims are overwhelmingly represented, at six times more likely than the rest of the newly homeless population to list domestic violence as the cause.
Childhood trauma was heavily reported with nearly one in five homeless former foster youth. More than 15% have suffered child abuse, and more than 16% have reported being neglected as a child.
Young people under 24 years increased with a high showing of students. Ages 25 to 64 years make up the most homeless, but elderly homeless are on the rise. In 2023, over 1,300 older adults over 55 years experienced homelessness, a 45% increase from last year.
Rex Richardson concluded the data update, saying it tells a story that can be used to respond to the need, pulling their teams and partners together to help turn the tide of homelessness.
He is encouraged by the trajectory because the significant spikes seen during the pandemic seem to be over.
“Now we work together to better manage the crisis and help as many people as we can,” he said. “We’ve stepped up a lot over the last 100 days. A lot of that is not reflected in these numbers, but it allows us again to have a baseline for next year, which is incredibly important.”
Homelessness was one of the top challenges that Richardson committed to addressing during his first 100 days in office, along with several key areas, including economic drivers, safe and healthy communities, expanding opportunities for youth, and supporting sustainability for the city.
Of the recent funding outputs since he took office, $22 million in new funding is set to expand shelter, housing and services. He initiated Launch Beach, a cross-sector partnership to support 100 local startups over five years, boosted by a $25 million commitment to the Strategic Growth Fund by members of the Long Beach Coalition.
James Suazo, executive director of Long Beach Forward, said the first steps for the 100 Day Plan are in the right direction, although there is a long way to go.
“In the past, when the City got behind zero-emissions trucks, they tragically favored wealthier trucking companies and operators, piling a financial burden on the workers to pay for the expenses to go green. We hope the City has learned their lesson and won’t make the same mistake again,” he said.
He said it’s also important for leaders to acknowledge and respect workers, especially low wage earners.
Investments in the green economy are contingent on city leadership, he added. Sauzo’s organization has pushed for the city to phase out oil drilling operations as soon as possible, and he wants to see that goal as part of what the Mayor is proposing for the future.
In their most recent Long Beach People’s Budget, he said the community coalition asked the City to increase investments in Long Beach Transit and the Long Beach Bike Share program.
“The community continues to be behind these types of significant changes in Long Beach to provide fare-free public transportation, to support racial justice, street safety, public health, and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals,” he said.
Overall, he sees the Mayor’s 100 Day plan as ambitious, with a lot of good progress made in a progressive direction.
“Even more so than we saw in the past Mayor’s work, in particular when it comes to the environment. Mayor Richardson’s plan recognizes that our current economy is tied to oil and gas, which is not sustainable. We are happy to see that environmental issues have been included in his focus,” he said.
For more on Mayor Richardson’s 100 Plan, see https://bit.ly/3AFHCUN