As L.A. County sees an increase in homeless families, agencies are struggling to help


On a Friday just before 9 a.m., men, women and children packed the lobby of the Family Solution Center in South Los Angeles. A mother with her two young boys said they had been sleeping in her car for months. She had arrived hoping to secure a spot in a shelter. Another, who sat with three of her children, ages 2, 6 and 8, lived in a shelter and was hoping for help with a deposit on an apartment. 

They were among more than two dozen family members who started lining up hours before the center opened at 8:30 a.m., hoping for housing assistance.

“I want to find shelter so I can get back to working,” said Rosibel Marcial, who has been living in her car with her boys.

In recent months, the center, which serves families that are homeless or on the verge of homelessness, has seen increasing numbers of people in need of assistance. And it is struggling to help them.

“It’s pretty dire,” said Veronica Lewis, director of the nonprofit HOPICS, which runs the center. “And it’s very disheartening. Obviously, for them mainly. But for us too, because we’re here to meet their needs.”

Across L.A. County, there has been a 45% increase in the number of families in the homeless system compared to last year, officials say. In the first quarter of the previous fiscal year there were 1,257 families in the system. This year, the first quarter saw 1,817 families, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The increase is stressing a system that was already under intense strain.

In recent months, dozens of families have set up on sidewalks on Skid Row, with babies sleeping in portable cribs and toddlers playing inside tents — a dire sight that had been rare until this year, experts say. Many of those families are recently arrivedmigrants who are not eligible for the same supports as residents.

But advocates and officials say local families are also driving the number of homeless families up throughout the region. 

“Across the county, families are feeling the squeeze of rising costs and stagnant wages — especially as pandemic-era wage support and eviction protections expire — putting increased pressure on the homeless response system for families,” officials with the county’s Homeless Initiative said in a statement.

Families told The Times they left after three months because the shelter began charging a fee to stay and they did not have the money, though shelter officials say they do not push people out to the streets if they cannot pay. 

The mission has considered adding capacity using a tension fabric building, somewhat similar to a hospital tent that was used during the pandemic and that could house an additional 30 families, said Jeff Hudson, interim president and chief executive of Union Rescue Mission. 

But the constraints to housing additional families aren’t just about adding physical space, he said. 

“As we expand and have families staying with us on a longer and longer basis, our budget can’t continue to accommodate all needs at all times,” he said. “So we have to limit our ability to welcome additional guests and to shelter them.”

Over the last few months, the county has moved at least two dozen families on Skid Row into motels. But as soon as some families leave, new ones arrive. 

Alejandra Lozada and her 2-year-old daughter, Flavia, were among a group of families taken to a motel at the end of April, after The Times wrote about how they had been living in a tent on Towne Street. 

They are much better now that they are off the street, Lozada said. They have a roof over their heads and she can cook for her daughter. But she’s uncertain how long they’ll be able to stay. She heard they might be moved to another site soon and she’s worried.

“I want to stay,” she said.

Article Date: 
Monday, May 13, 2024