WeHo homeless population falling, or is it?

February 14, 2013


According to this year’s homeless census, the number of people living on the streets of West Hollywood has dropped 20 percent over the past two years, a surprising result given the 23 percent increase announced over the summer of 2012.

A document presented Tuesday to the city’s Human Services Commission showed 46 people found by the bi-annual Greater Los Angeles Area Homeless Count.

Homelessness s difficult to track.

That compares with the 57 homeless in the city found during the 2011 count, and the 59 found in 2009. Of those located, all but one were adults over 18.

"Of particular note is the continued absence of families living on the streets," the report states. "The rental assistance program funded by the City and administered by the National Council of Jewish Women has kept 116 people from experiencing homelessness."

The report cites West Hollywood's 2009 Homeless Registry with documenting and tracking new homeless individuals in the community and the Shelter Plus Care program, which since the last homeless count has found permanent housing for "19 chronically homeless, disabled people," for the reduction in numbers.

Volunteers, outreach workers from People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), and deputies received training in procedures from the Los Angeles Regional Homeless Services Authority before taking the count. The 32 people involved then split up into groups of four to five and canvassed the city streets.

The group found one car, seven vans, one RV/camper and four bedrolls in doorways associated with their homeless count.

The results of the census surprised some who have watched over the past year as the homeless population seemed to rise, at least from the perspective of law enforcement.

Many people choose to sleep or stay on West Hollywood because it has a reputation for being considerate.

In July, 2012, West Hollywood’s city manager Paul Arevalo asked Sheriff Captain Kelley Frazer to address the city council because incidents of “contacts” with homeless people had risen 23 percent in 2012 over the year prior.

At that meeting, Capt. Fraser told the city that because of State Assembly bill AB 109, an early prison release bill that went into effect in October, 2011, “We have had an increase with homeless in the city… about 23 percent more over the same timeline last year,” said West Hollywood station Captain Kelley Fraser.

Under that bill, non-violent, non-sex and non-serious offenders are now monitored on probation at the local level. “We’re, as a department… managing and monitoring the AB 109 release, which is non-, non-, non-folks… and how that impacts our crime,” she said. She said that the WeHo branch deputies are seeing an increase in “drunk in public – that seems to be our big one and petty thefts.”

She reminded “everybody that it’s not a crime to be homeless, but it’s a crime to do crime… Some of the messages that the homeless are providing our deputies is, ‘I’m here because I feel safe.’ Ironically,” she said, “they know the city has the services here… to ensure that they have what they need.”

Following the Captain’s comments, the West Hollywood social services director, Daphne Denis, explained the service side of handling the transient’s problems, which amounts to “a little more than $400,000” in direct city funding per year along with “a lot of other programs that assist the homeless.”

Still, public drunkenness is a crime, so while it is no crime to be homeless, but it's a crime to do crimes.

“There’s always an uptick in the summer,” she said, “and this year… economic downturn really coming home to roost,” is one factor.

Another factor increasing the number of homelessness on the streets committing crimes is the transfer of prisoners from county to city jails and the city jailers assessing whom they can release on probation, “and some of that supervision is not the best,” said Ms. Dennis.

Although numbers of transients and Sheriff contacts are up, she said, so too are the referrals.

In May, for example, “where we have three or four referrals we had nine.” So far as cooperation with People Helping The Homeless (PATH) transitional housing program, “We are housing right now 24 people in their shelter program and six in youth program.”

Ms. Dennis noted that, in past years, the gay men that were on the city’s streets tended to come here from other places in the state and even country, but in the last year or so more of the gay men needing homeless services are West Hollywood residents who have suffered dislocation due to the economic downturn.

Mayor Jeffrey Prang decried the way homelessness, and the treatment of the mentally ill, is treated in the state. “It’s horrible,” he said, adding that according to Sheriff Lee Baca, “as many as 30 percent of inmates… are mentally ill people who may have committed crimes, but they really need treatment – they don’t need to be incarcerated.”

Captain Fraser noted that her deputies often find that the homeless people they offer services to refuse them. “Some people choose to be there… choose not to take,” the services the city offers.