Get the Real Story: Myths & Facts About Homelessness in Los Angeles

There is widespread misinformation about the homelessness crisis and how to solve it. Much of it stems from fear and preconceived notions about the root causes of homelessness.

These myths perpetuate biases that make it harder for us to accomplish our goals and fight for solutions that actually work.

One way you can help get more people off the street and into permanent housing is to educate yourself about the common myths and the arguments against them, and spread the word among your friends, family, and social network. We broke down a few of the most frequent ones below.

MYTH: Most of the homeless population comes from out of town / FACT: Two-thirds of people experiencing homelessness in LA have lived here for more than 10 years

This is perhaps the most common misconception about homelessness in LA — that everyone living on the streets came from the midwest for the sunny weather, or that they were shipped here from another city. The truth is, the majority of people experiencing homelessness have lived in LA County for more than 10 years (67.6%), according to the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count results. Only 12.4% have lived here for under a year. Breakdowns in local systems of foster care, health care and criminal justice often lead to life on the streets.

MYTH: Mental illness and drug addiction are the root causes of homelessness / FACT: Economic hardship is the leading root cause of homelessness

Although there are many unsheltered individuals experiencing mental illness and drug addiction — 29% according to the most recent Homeless Count — the majority (53%) of people experiencing first-time homelessness cite “economic hardship” as a leading factor. The rising cost of housing and low wages leave hundreds of thousands on the edge of homelessness, and push thousands over that edge. Today, an LA renter earning minimum wage ($13.25/hr) would need to work 79 hours per week to afford rent on an average 1-bedroom apartment, and 1/3 of LA households spend more than 50% of their household income on rent.

Mental health care is undoubtedly a critical part of support for people experiencing homelessness-but an end to homelessness will come from addressing high rents and stagnant wages, and improving support for people exiting hospitals, foster care, and the criminal justice system. These are all key drivers of homelessness that are pushing people into homelessness faster than our homeless services system can move them out.

MYTH: Homeless people just need to get jobs / FACT: Housing is what ends homelessness; in fact, many people experiencing homelessness are working full-time and still not earning enough for housing

The Housing First model for combating homelessness is a proven, global best practice in ending homelessness. It means moving individuals into housing first and foremost is our primary goal, . Studies show that once placed in permanent supportive housing, residents begin to heal and recover from medical or substance abuse issues, gain economic stability, and get the support services they need to permanently stay housed.

Among homeless adults with children, 27% said they were working either part or full time. Los Angeles is the most unaffordable region in the country for the poorest renters. Simply getting a job is not sufficient to lift people out of poverty when wages don’t keep up with the rising cost of rent. It’s estimated that a rent increase of just 5 percent across the region would push 2,000 people into homelessness.

LAHSA includes connecting people who have struggled with homelessness to employment opportunities in our mission. A job can be a critical part of regaining stability after experiencing homelessness. But ending homelessness will require repairing our broken housing system with affordable housing and tenant protections.

MYTH: Homeless people just refuse to get help / FACT: There are many types of people experiencing homelessness, and the pathways to help them overcome obstacles and enter housing vary

When approached with respect and dignity, . This is not always the case for shelter. Unsheltered individuals may hesitate to enter a shelter because of restrictions on pets or belongings, or having to split up as a couple. More and better shelter options, including bridge housing, can overcome those hesitations, though not as much as a permanent place to call home.

And right now, there are many more people who would stay in a shelter if they could-but there aren’t enough beds. There are only 12,000 emergency shelter beds for the estimated 59,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Los Angeles County, an estimated 44,000 of them unsheltered. If everyone living on the street wanted to come inside tonight, there wouldn’t be a fraction of the beds needed.

To find out how you can be a part of the movement advocating for more housing across LA, please join the Everyone In campaign.

The Road Home

A blog from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority