The 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count continues to perpetuate the invisibility of young people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles
This year's Youth Count was the first since the onset of COVID in March 2020. Results released today estimate a 58% reduction in unsheltered youth. This reduction in unsheltered youth is the most significant ever measured since Los Angeles started conducting a separate Youth Count. The dramatic decline in unsheltered youth documented in the 2022 Youth Count primarily reflects COVID-related issues rather than a significant decline in youth homelessness. The Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership (HHYP) and the Los Angeles Coalition to End Youth Homelessness (LACEYH) believe that this year’s count tells only a portion of the story of youth homelessness in Los Angeles.
The 2022 Youth Count was conducted under challenging circumstances and the results reflect that. During the winter of 2022, many youth-serving organizations experienced COVID outbreaks, which caused significant and unpredictable staff and volunteer shortages. There was a 64% decrease in the number of surveys of eligible youth collected, which highlights the unique challenges of the 2022 Youth Count.
There are some reasons to believe that youth homelessness is genuinely on the decline. Investments in the youth-serving system and proactive policies put in place since the last count in early 2020 (as a result of tireless advocacy from young people, service providers, and other stakeholders) appear to have had a meaningful impact. Eviction protections kept many unstably-housed young people and families in their homes instead of on the streets. Expansions of youth-serving interim housing have helped some unsheltered young people move indoors. More housing has been built and opened since the 2020 count, and many young people have been able to move indoors more permanently with the structural wraparound support they need to stay housed. Data suggests that youth-specific housing-related interventions do actually work to keep young people housed.
However, young people have always been a “hidden population” and the under-resourced Youth Count has always been an undercount. The strict definition of unsheltered homelessness from HUD means that many young people that are without stable shelter or housing and use homeless services daily are not accounted for in these numbers. Circumstances that are common for precariously-housed and unhoused young people, like couch surfing, doubling up in rooms meant for fewer occupants, or staying in a motel do not meet the strict federal definition of homelessness. COVID’s impacts appear to have heightened the contradictions between federal requirements and lived reality.
Despite lower overall numbers, the data indicates an alarming increase in young people in distress. The percent of unsheltered young people reporting mental health issues nearly doubled from 16% in 2020 to 30% in 2022. The percent of unsheltered young people reporting substance abuse issues increased from 7% to 40%. A recent study from the L.A. County Department of Public Health found that there was a 106% increase in deaths among unhoused youth since the beginning of the pandemic, increasing at a greater rate than older adults experiencing homelessness. This data reflects what we see daily in our work.
It’s clear that the crisis of youth homelessness in L.A. is not accurately reflected by the 2022 Youth Count, though we have learned that the nature of youth homelessness has changed in various ways. These results cannot indicate that there should be a reduction of resources for young people. We not only need more investment in the interventions that are working, we need more resources for young people whose mental health and substance use have worsened. We need to seriously consider how to adapt the methods of the Youth Count to reflect the current state of youth homelessness, both by connecting with other sources of data and by finding a way to count young people who fall outside of the HUD definition of literal homelessness.
To see LAHSA's 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count results, click here.
About the HHYP
The Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership (HHYP) is a partnership of youth-serving agencies that prevent and reduce homelessness among youth and young adults through:
- Service Impact
- Research & Evaluation
- Training &Capacity Building
- Policy & Advocacy
The Los Angeles Coalition to End Youth Homelessness (LACEYH) is a body that brings together service providers, government agencies, and other stakeholders who are committed to supporting youth experiencing homelessness throughout LA County. LACEYH hosts quarterly membership meetings and bi-monthly Steering Committee meetings. The quarterly membership meetings are designed to bring together the entire LACEYH community to share resources, provide information on best practices, and communicate with LAHSA. LACYEH also leads the Young People to the Front Campaign.