Los Angeles homeless numbers jump 23% in a year

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Tents housing the homeless and their belongings crowd a street corner in Los Angeles, California on April 20, 2017Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Homeless people sleeping on the streets are a familiar sight in Los Angeles

The number of people homeless in the US city of Los Angeles has soared in the past year, a new report shows, despite efforts to combat the problem.

The homeless population in the city grew 20% while the numbers for the wider Los Angeles County were even higher at 23%, the figures revealed.

Experts say soaring rents and a high cost of living are major factors.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn described the figures as "staggering".

"Homelessness in LA County has grown at a shocking rate," she said in a statement.

"Even as work is being done to get thousands of people off the street and into housing, more and more people are becoming homeless. It is clear that if we are going to end the homeless crisis, we need to stem the overwhelming tide of people falling into homelessness."

The city of Los Angeles has long been known as the homeless capital of America and a special agency, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), was set up in 1993 to find a solution.

In 2015 authorities declared a public emergency as the numbers sleeping rough soared. City officials committed $100m (£77m) to tackling the problem.

In its latest report, the LAHSA said there were 57,794 people homeless in the county during its survey in January, compared to 46,874 in 2016.

In the city there were 34,189 with no permanent roof over their heads, the report said, compared to 28,464 the year before.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said there was "no sugarcoating the bad news".

"It's impossible to wrap your head around the numbers," he told reporters, adding that soaring rents and the city's high cost of living were partly to blame.

"We can't let rents double every year," he told reporters.

Average rents in Los Angeles County have increased by 32% since 2000 while average household incomes for people renting have fallen by 3% when adjusted for inflation, according to the California Housing Partnership.

It says those on the lowest incomes are spending 70% of their income on rent, leaving little for food and other needs.

The county needs to build more than 550,000 affordable rental homes for low-income households, the LAHSA says.

Los Angeles recently approved new measures to raise $1.2bn (£932m) in bonds to build 10,000 new units of housing for homeless people. There are also plans to raise about $3.5bn over 10 years to pay for other homelessness projects.