LOS ANGELES (AP) — A strategy of placing homeless people in permanent housing instead of short-term shelters actually may have increased the problem in Los Angeles County, it was reported Monday.
The county's homeless population remained roughly stable from 2015 to 2016. But about 1,400 more people lacked shelter, meaning they literally lived on the street, according to the annual count of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
One reason, according to the authority, was a loss of so-called transitional housing beds through funding cuts or conversions to permanent housing, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://lat.ms/2aOQKNj).
Both types of housing can include services for the homeless, such as counseling. But permanent housing allows the chronically homeless to stay for as long as necessary for them to become independent.
Last year, the homeless services authority cut funding for about 2,000 transitional housing beds operated by 58 agencies, and more cuts are on the way. The authority competes for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is shifting money to permanent housing.
The 220-room Panama Hotel on Skid Row in Los Angeles used to offer 90-day transitional housing for the homeless. The building has been gutted for remodeling and will reopen next year as permanent housing — but with only 72 apartments.
"We tried to keep our doors open because we saw the tremendous need," said Anita Nelson, chief executive of SRO Housing Corp., the nonprofit that owns the hotel. "We ended up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so."
More than 200 people had to move.
"We tried to transition as many as we could and farm out to other agencies," Nelson said. "Unfortunately, some people went back on the street."
Because of fund reductions, the Weingart Center on skid row has lost 300 transitional housing units over five years, according to figures from the homeless authority.
Unfortunately, it could take years to provide enough permanent housing to replace transitional housing.
About 300 units of what is known as permanent supportive housing are built in the city each year, said Carlos VanNatter of the city's Housing Authority. In the meantime, Los Angeles is struggling to deal with a homeless population estimated at 27,000.
The House of Ruth in Boyle Heights saw its grant cut this year, but it has a chance to compete for a new grant in September. That grant, however, will require converting some beds to permanent housing.
That means more room for chronically homeless people but less for families who may need shorter-term housing because of a crisis, said Sister Jennifer Gaeta, the executive director.
"We've got all these young moms hiding in cars and being forgotten," Gaeta said. "If we put all our funding into the chronically homeless, all we are doing is creating a new generation of chronically homeless."
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