Homeless population increases

A homeless camp off Sierra Highway and Avenue L is reinforced with a block wall in this picture from Jan. 23, the day of the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count in the Antelope Valley. The number of people experiencing homelessness in the Antelope Valley grew 44% over last year.

LANCASTER — The Antelope Valley’s homeless population increased to 4,755 people experiencing homelessness, a 44% increase over last year’s figures, according to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count data released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

That was the largest increase in four years. But officials said it most likely is a more accurate count than in previous years.

The count included sheltered and unsheltered numbers. Sheltered are those individuals who live in a public or privately run shelter.

The unsheltered numbers were collected by thousands of volunteers who canvassed the streets and unincorporated areas of the county over three days in January.

Volunteers in the Antelope Valley set out early on Jan. 23 to count people experiencing homelessness.

Lancaster Vice Mayor Marvin Crist said the higher number in this year’s count more accurately reflects the Valley’s population of people experiencing homelessness.

“I just think they’re getting better at counting and those are more realistic numbers,” he said.

Crist speculated the mild winter this January also contributed to the higher number with people experiencing homelessness less likely to hunker down to protect themselves from the cold.

The City of Lancaster also used the Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System (also known as LEAPS), eye in the sky airplane to assist with the count.

“There’s a lot of things,” he said. “We’re just getting a more accurate count.”

Kensington Campus, the 14-acre development with supportive and housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, at Avenue I and 32nd Street West, welcomed its first tenants last fall.

“I think we’re doing all the right things,” Crist said. “We’re heading in all the right directions but with COVID it’s just  making it more difficult for everybody, not just the homeless.”

The city is still working on it.

“This is just not an Antelope Valley situation; this is an entire state, entire country situation,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can. We have our priorities and opening Kensington is a good start.

Let’s hope we can go from there.”

Lancaster Deputy Mayor Heather Varden, the Coordinated Entry System coordinator also credited LEAPS for a more accurate count. She added professionals who knew where to look for homeless encampments assisted volunteers who were counting.

Los Angeles County is divided into eight service planning areas. The Antelope Valley is Service Planning Area 1, or SPA 1. SPA 1 had the largest increase in the population of people experiencing homelessness in the county.

“The news of that increase in the Antelope Valley is heartbreaking for the supervisor and for staff as well,” Michelle Vega, Communications director for Supervisor Kathryn Barger said.

Dana Vanderford, Barger’s deputy in charge of homeless issues, said the wide variations in the count can be attributed to the difficulty of counting in the Antelope Valley’s cities, as well as rural communities.

“For the supervisor, from Day 1 when she took office, she focused on the Antelope Valley and building hundreds of units of homeless housing units in the AV,” Vanderford said. “So to see a 44% increase for us was really difficult.”

Barger has been a supporter and partner in projects such as Kensington Campus and the Courson Arts Colony in Palmdale, Vanderford said, adding that when she started, the only homeless housing was the now-closed Lancaster Community Shelter. Barger also has continually supported the operation of a 24-hour emergency shelter at the High Desert Multi-Ambulatory Care Center.

Countywide, approximately 207 people fall into homelessness daily, whether for mental health, substance abuse or financial reasons.

The 2020 count included 3,765 individuals not in a family unit, 23 of which were unaccompanied minors. There were 165 transitional-age youth from 18 to 24 years old, an increase of 65% from last year. There were 3,577 adults ages 25 and older, an increase of 74% from last year.

There were 308 family households, with at least one child younger than 18 years old, a decrease of 17% from last year.

The Valley’s number of veterans experiencing homeless increased 86% this year to 220 veterans, or about 5% of the total population. The number includes 217 unsheltered veterans, an 89% increase over last year. There were 76 chronically homeless veterans, a 533% increase over last year.

The LA Homeless Services Authority defines being chronically homeless as an individual who lives in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven or in an emergency shelter, continuously, for at least 12 months, or on at least four separate occasions in the last three years and can be diagnosed with a disability, substance abuse disorder or mental illness.

Males, including transgender, comprise the largest percentage of people experiencing homelessness at 3,008 people, or 63% of the population. Females, including transgender, comprised 37% of the population. There was one gender non-binary individual and 30 transgender individuals.

White people comprised the largest racial group among the homeless population with 38%, or 1,830 people, an 86% increase over last year. Black or African-American people were the next largest racial group at 34%, or 1,595 people, a 27% increase from the previous year. Hispanic or Latino people comprised 23% of the total homeless population with 1,077 people, a 32% increase over last year.

There were also 63 Asian people experiencing homelessness, a 40% increase from last year. The homeless population of American Indian/Alaska native people increased 91% to 126 people. There were two homeless Native Hawaiian or other Pacific islanders, a 96% decrease from last year. There were also 62 multi-racial people experiencing homelessness, a 6% decrease from last year.

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