‘Nowhere close’: LA accused of fudging homelessness numbers

After the city of Los Angeles released its findings on the total homeless population, experts and survey volunteers alike raised concerns over the dubiously low number said to be “nowhere close” to correct.

(Video: KCBS-TV)

The Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority (LAHSA) is already making preparations for its 2023 homeless count in January and, while newly elected Mayor Karen Bass (D) takes advantage of powers granted from an emergency declaration, the joint commission’s 2022 results appeared to downplay the pervasiveness of the problem.

According to LAHSA, between 2020 and 2022 the increase in the LA County homeless population was only 4.1 percent, and merely 1.7 percent in the city. However, volunteer Jessica Rogers, who recalled being “scared for [her] life” while going block-by-block to help with counts, said the data had some wild inaccuracies.

“I remember very well what I saw and where I saw it and what it was like. And to find out that LAHSA recorded zero people on the streets that night is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching,” she told CBS after seeing an area where she had counted 297 homeless be reported as zero.

“LAHSA did not get the count right. Nowhere close. Nowhere near,” Rogers contended.

The outlet went so far as to speak with some of the homeless in the area where they laughed at the preposterous claim from the city officials. “I think it’s bullsh*t, excuse my language,” Bill Young said after explaining that he, his friends, and their dogs had been living in vans in the same parking lot near a Venice dog park for six years.

The discrepancies were further pointed out by nonprofit Economic Roundtable President Dan Flamming who had been working his way through the specifics of the report and said, “Yes, we’re questioning some of the numbers.”

Breaking down the data, he provided examples of areas that “had 94 unsheltered in 2020 and this year’s count had zero,” before going on to explain that that was the case for 335 areas throughout L.A. “It’s hard to reconcile with what I see as I drive around the city.”

Molly Rysman, LAHSA’s chief programs officer, disagreed with critiques of the findings even as she assented to Rogers’ claim that the application used to submit findings was riddled with problems including frequent crashes.

“I wouldn’t say it didn’t work,” Rysman told CBS. “There were some challenges.”

She went on to say, “Our goal is to get a regional estimate. Assigning the data per census track was complicated this year because of technological issues. We believe we got the best regional estimate we could,” before admitting that they intended to use a different company for the upcoming survey.

Meanwhile, in her first action as mayor, Bass declared a state of emergency in the city because of the homeless population and will oversee an increase to LAHSA’s budget from around $800 million to $1.1 billion in 2023. At the same time, opponents of her executive action have criticized the posturing for lacking any real impact as the homeless population has not been deterred from remaining on the streets.

“What do they say? Numbers don’t lie but people lie,” Jay Handel, chair of the homelessness committee for the LA Neighborhoods Councils said as he suggested there was manipulation at work. “I wouldn’t count it out. Knowing how unhappy the county and city are with LAHSA it would not shock me.”

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