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Making Sense of Homelessness Numbers

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, October 15, 2007, at 01:26PM

Late last week the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) released its 2007 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. The bullet points cited in media coverage like this report from the Times were that countywide homelessness was down from 2005 (68,608 against 82,291), but that homeless population on Skid Row was up (5,131 vs 3,668).

Those numbers don't make sense to me.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that the Times told us that Chief Bratton had admitted that Safer Cities enforcement had created Skid Row displacement? Haven't we been hearing for a year now that Downtown's homeless are scattering around the region and causing overflow at regional facilities? And yet we're now supposed to believe that Skid Row's population is up significantly over the past two years?

LAHSA claims to have conducted a street count of Skid Row that found 1,797 unsheltered homeless on January 25th, 2007. LAPD's count from January 15th showed only 875 individuals on the streets of Downtown, and the February 1st count showed that number to have fallen again to 812. Are we to believe that LAPD's count is off by more than 100%?

Having regularly walked the streets of Skid Row during the period in question, both on the monthly Neighborhood Walks and individually, I saw in person that the population on the streets in January was way down from the previous fall. It continues to be down, and walking Skid Row's streets today is a worlds different experience than it was a year ago. Given that, the LAPD numbers simply ring truer to my personal experience.

Bottom line, numbers and statistics are politics. Digest them all with a large helping of salt, and never trust reports over your own personal experience.

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