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Homelessness in Los Angeles is projected to skyrocket over the next four years

The economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will result in a significant increase of homeless both locally and nationally for years to come.

By Marcos Franco, News Editor

A homeless person sleeping in their car on Burbank Boulevard next to Valley College. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Margarita Garushyan/The Valley Star)

Although the United States rounds the corner of the pandemic, the recession accompanied by COVID-19 is expected to significantly increase the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles over the next four years.

Of the 10.04 million residents living in Los Angeles, roughly 66,000 are homeless, according to NPR, making it the city with the second highest number of unhoused individuals in the country. Despite already being near the epicenter of the crisis, homelessness in Los Angeles is projected to rise upwards of 86 percent over the course of four years, peaking in 2023.

“One long term effect of the recession is the degradation of people’s skills during the time they cannot find employment so they have trouble becoming employed again and some never rejoin the labor force,” said Wesley Oliphant, professor of economics at Valley College. “People tend to fear any uncertainty having to do with employment which means lower earnings for them and lower growth of the economy.”

In 2020, California experienced historically high unemployment rates of 15.5 percent, compared to the previous record of 12.3 percent in 2010, the height of the Great Recession. This peak of job destruction led to over 643,000 people without stable housing in the United States. The economic decline caused by the pandemic is projected to result in twice the amount of homelessness than the previous recession.

While California already leads the nation in homelessness with more than 150,000 unhoused individuals in the state, the long term effects of the recession is projected to increase by 49 percent, tacking on an additional 131,400 among working-age adults.

According to nonprofit research organization Economic Roundtable, economically-driven homelessness is not a result of total unemployment but instead a loss at the margin of labor. This means those affected will have less leftover profit after expenses have been paid, resulting in more individuals living paycheck to paycheck. For this reason, it is projected that 85 percent of homelessness following the pandemic will be in the form of couch-surfing or living in cars rather than living on the street.

A homeless tent on Coldwater Canyon next to Valley College. Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Margarita Garushyan/The Valley Star)

While the financial hitch has been a widespread issue in the United States, the struggle will be emphasized for African Americans and Latinos.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black and Hispanic groups traditionally have the highest number of people living at or below the poverty line. Since individuals in this demographic tend to be precariously housed as a result of low-wage earnings, they are at higher risk of long-term homelessness.

In the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), roughly 20 percent of students have faced homelessness in the past year and about two-thirds cannot afford well balanced meals, according to the California State Assembly Democratic Caucus. While being a college student is challenging enough, not having basic needs met for food and housing makes completing educational goals that much more difficult.

“It’s shameful how many college students in California are struggling with homelessness,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel in a statement published by the Assembly Democratic Caucus. “This legislation will help keep the doors of opportunity open for our most vulnerable students by enabling them to retain their financial aid, remain enrolled, and graduate with a degree.”

Valley offers aid for students struggling with food and housing insecurities through the Helping Hands Project. This service provides students access to resources and referrals such as grants to help them combat food and housing shortage.

Helping Hands is run by volunteers and relies on the help of community donations to continue providing services to students in need. To donate, visit the Foundation website.

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