Homeless camps have long been an unmissable feature of areas of Los Angeles, but businesses report they’ve gradually seen more unsheltered people residing in areas close to their establishments.
That may be due to the simple fact that there are more people living on the streets.
“Along with the increase in homelessness comes an increase in unsheltered homelessness, so these are individuals who aren’t able to use (an) emergency shelter or interim shelter and so they’re visibly experiencing homelessness,” said Lorena Sanchez, chief communications and development officer for the Downtown Women’s Center.
“They’re sleeping outside. There’s an increase in encampments and it’s not like there’s a place for encampments and so many of them are either directly in front of or encroaching on the area where businesses are operating.”
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles is still at an all-time high, although the city has not conducted a headcount since 2020. The 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed 66,436 people in Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness, a nearly 13% rise from 2019’s count. The city of Los Angeles saw a 16% spike, to 41,290 people.
In April, the executive director of the LAHSA, Heidi Marston, stepped down from her position and has been vocal about city officials erasing visible signs of homelessness, including through encampment sweeps and anti-camping laws, instead of focusing on the root sources of the crisis such as wages not matching the cost of living and the housing-supply shortage.
The Los Angeles City Council last month voted 11-3 to prohibit homeless people from sitting or lying within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers. The council’s vote expanded a rule that allowed the city to ban homeless people from within 500 or 1,000 feet of certain places, such as schools, overpasses or homeless shelters that received approval and posted signs. The ordinance, however, does not prohibit homeless individuals from setting up camp in front of businesses.
Jessica Lall, president and chief executive of the Central City Association of Los Angeles, said, “The homelessness crisis hurts absolutely everybody in the community, no one more so than the people who are …houseless, still living on our streets.”
“I think the business community and our organization have been focused on solutions and looking at how to make our systems better, serve the most vulnerable Angelenos,” Lall said.
The homelessness crisis hurts absolutely everybody in the community.
Central City Association of Los Angeles
Lall expressed the opinion that different sectors of Los Angeles should work together to tackle the crisis head-on.
“The city of L.A. can, we think, do more to continue to cut red tape, to allow for more housing to be built faster and more cost effectively,” Lall said. “We also think the L.A. County departments of mental health, foster care, criminal justice system also have obviously a very significant and important role to play, so we’ve been pushing for and participating in processes that better align these resources.”
Business owners from various industries have the ability to lend their expertise to the government as they work out how to mediate the crisis, she added.
“I think the business community has interest, of course, compassion (and) resources to lend to government to help them overcome this issue. I don’t think one government is going to solve this problem alone,” Lall continued. “It’s going to require us all coming together, as we’ve been really focused on trying to get members who have real estate expertise, design, architecture expertise, working directly with government and elected officials to help accelerate the solutions to homelessness. And I think we hope to see more of that continue.”