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New Study Illuminates Responses to L.A.’s Growing Homeless Encampments

Rockville, Md.  –  As Los Angeles County’s unsheltered population grows, homeless encampments are an increasingly prominent issue—on neighborhood streets, in parks, and adjacent to highways—that officials need to better understand to plan and target more effective solutions. A new policy brief by Abt Global for the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation illuminates the complexity of the issue, and the amount of resources the city and county are employing to address this escalating crisis.

The study gives L.A. officials, agencies, homeless services providers, and health care professionals a holistic understanding of trends among encampment residents and current strategies and protocols. The authors also find clear consensus on what’s fundamentally needed to curb the crisis: more interim and permanent housing options for people to exit encampments and an upstream response focused on the affordable housing crisis in the Los Angeles region. Additional findings include:

  • L.A. city and county’s high-touch approaches to curbing encampments are resource-intensive. Outreach and person-centered approaches are the top priority of city and county responses to encampments, and they are costly. Closing encampments involves general and specialized outreach teams from the city and county working to first address residents’ immediate needs—such as food, water, hygiene supplies, and medical care—before connecting them with shelter and housing opportunities (if they are available).
  • Ultimately, for the number of people staying in L.A. area encampments to decline, interim housing needs to better meet the needs of the intended population and permanent housing options need to be both more affordable and desirable. The city and county can look to recent successful housing program models that offered participants autonomy, privacy, and security.
  • COVID-19 has played a multi-faceted role in the increase in encampments. Fear of transmission became an additional reason for people to avoid shelters while, at the same time, both the city and county suspended encampment closings. Both trends aligned with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that living in tents offered better protection against viral spread than crowded congregate shelters.

“This study is important not only because it provides a comprehensive picture of how policymakers and others are addressing Los Angeles’ homeless encampments,” explained the study’s lead author, Abt’s Lauren Dunton. “It demonstrates that even a person-centered approach alone cannot resolve this challenge. We need to address the underlying socio-economic causes—notably housing affordability, structural racism, and gaps in the social safety net—if we want everyone to have housing.”

About Abt Global
Abt Global is a global consulting and research firm that combines data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. We partner with clients and communities to advance equity and innovation—from creating scalable digital solutions and combatting infectious disease, to mitigating climate change and evaluating programs for measurable social impact.

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