Who Are West Hollywood’s Homeless?

EDITOR’S NOTE:  An earlier version of this story erred in stating that the percentage of homeless people surveyed in West Hollywood who identified as gay, lesbian and bisexual was 10 times that of those who identified similarly in the LAHSA survey of L.A. County. Actually the percentage in WeHo was 31.8%, roughly five times the percentage identified as such in  L.A. County, which was 6.3%.

Who are West Hollywood’s homeless?

An analysis of data from L.A. County’s annual homeless survey and that from a survey specific to West Hollywood describes a population that is younger than that of the county as a whole and more likely to be white. It also shows that the percentage of those who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual is five times that of the homeless people across the rest of the county and the percentage of those who are transgender women is almost 20 times the countywide percentage.

homeless person, santa monica boulevard
Homeless woman in front of Circus of Books on Santa Monica Boulevard. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

More than half of those surveyed in WeHo were “chronically homeless” (54.5%), meaning they had been homeless for a year or more or homeless at least four times over three years. The rate was a much lower 36.6% countywide. Four in ten of the West Hollywood homeless people surveyed have lived in L.A. County 20 years or more compared to nearly six in ten of homeless people throughout the county. More than a quarter of WeHo’s homeless (27.3%) have been here from one to five years and 11.4% for one year or less.

The detailed analysis was done by Kimberly Ling Murtaugh, a consultant with Murtaugh & Associates that was engaged by the City of West Hollywood. Murtaugh reviewed data from the 2017 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which reported a 23% surge to 57,794 people in L.A. County’s already high homeless population. Only 26% of those homeless people are in shelter.

The LASHS count found 105 homeless people in West Hollywood, a 30% increase over the 81 counted in 2016 and nearly twice the 54 counted in 2015. The count reflects the number of homeless people encountered during the January survey period and is not an annual average. Also, it is calculated using certain LAHSA formulas that estimate, for example, how many people might actually be living in a vehicle where one homeless person is found sleeping. The survey of 44 homeless people in West Hollywood has its limitations too, given the small size of the sample when compared to the larger number in the LASHS count.

Here is a breakdown of the West Hollywood survey results compared to that of LASHS. Note that the LASHS survey doesn’t include Long Beach, Glendale and Pasadena, which conduct their own counts.

Ages

The analysis of the survey shows 6.8% of WeHo’s homeless are ages 18 to 24 a much higher percent than the one-tenth of one percent identified in the broader LASHS survey. Those ages 24-54 make up 77.3% of WeHo’s homeless population (70.2% of the county’s). Those 55-62 make up 11.4% (17.6% countywide) and those over 62 account for 4.5% in WeHo and 8.9% in the LASHS countwide survey.

Race and Ethnicity

In West Hollywood, 47.7% of the homeless survey were white (34.1% in L.A. County). Black or African-American people accounted for 40.9% of those in WeHo (39.1% in L.A. County), and Latino’s made up 29.5%, almost equal to the 29.8% in L.A. County. Native American or Alaskan people accounted for 6.8% of those surveyed (essentially three people) in WeHo and 2.3% of those in L.A. County. Slightly more than 11% of WeHo’s homeless identified as multiracial, compared to 1.9% of those countywide, and 2.3% identified as Asian, compared to 1.6% of those countywide.

A homeless man on Santa Monica Boulevard..
(Photo by Jon Viscott)

Gender

Those identifying as transgender male to female made up 13.6% of the WeHo survey (six people) and less than one percent of the L.A. County survey. Men represented 68.2% of those surveyed in WeHo and women 15.9%. That compares to to figures of 70.4% and 28.3% respectively in L.A. County.


Sexual Orientation

While the majority of those surveyed in West Hollywood (63.6% or 28 people) identified as heterosexual, a significant number (10 or 22.7%) identified as bisexual, four (9.1%) identified as gay or lesbian, one identified as unsure and one claimed not to know. That sets West Hollywood apart from the rest of the county surveyed, which found 87.8% identifying as heterosexual, 3.3% as gay or lesbian, 3% as bisexual and less than half of one percent as unsure or “other.”

Education

Those surveyed in West Hollywood were somewhat educated, with 36.4% claiming a high school or GED degree, 15.9% a community college or trade school degree and 11.4% a college degree. Comparable figures for the county’s homeless population aren’t available.

Veterans

Three of those responding in the WeHo survey said they were or had been active duty or reserve military or members of the national guard. That amounts to 6.8% of those surveyed. Only one of the three identified as heterosexual.

Health Conditions

The survey included both the responses of the homeless people who were asked if they had a health issue and the observations of those conducting the survey.

Interviews with homeless people indicated a much higher prevalence of HIV or AIDS-related illness (18.2% compared to 1.6% countywide) and of physical disabilities (29.5% vs. 17% countywide). Other major health issues reported by WeHo’s homeless population were:

— Serious and long-continuing mental illness (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia): 25% compared to 30.1% countywide.

— Post-traumatic stress disorder: 20.5% vs. 16.4% countywide.

— Physical illness (chronic or ongoing): 20.5% vs. 15.2% countywide.

— Severe depression (chronic or ungoing): 20.5% vs. 25.7% countywide.

— Problematic alcohol use: 18.2% vs. 23.6% countywide.

— Problematic drug use: 11.4% vs. 25.2% countywide.

— Traumatic brain injury: 11.4% vs. 5.3% countywide.

Conditions observed by the surveyors were as follows:

— Mental illness: 43.2% in West Hollywood vs. 26% countywide.

— Alcohol or drug abuse: 38.6% in WeHo vs. 26.7% countywide.

— Serious physical health condition: 20.5% in WeHo vs. 12.9% countywide.

In 27.3% of the those surveyed in WeHo, or 12 of the 44 people surveyed, no mental illness, substance abuse or physical conditions were observed. That was the case with 48.6% of those surveyed countywide.

History of Violence or Abuse

The survey found that nearly four in ten West Hollywood respondents (38.6% had experienced some form of violence or abuse from a family member or domestic partner, with the majority of those people (58.5%) having experienced multiple instances of abuse. Abuse was reported by 33.5% of those in the countywide survey, a big increase from the 18% reported in 2016.

In West Hollywood, it was the men surveyed who experienced the most abuse, with 58.8% reporting that compared to 56.5% countywide. Among transgender people surveyed in WeHo, 23.5% said they had been physically abused compared to 1.4% of transgender people surveyed countywide. Women were more likely to have reported abuse in the countywide survey (41.4%) than in the WeHo survey (11.8%).

Among those who identified as gay or lesbian, 17.6% in WeHo reported being physically abused compared to 6.9% countywide and as did 35.3% of those who identified as bisexual (compared to 4.9% countywide).

Homeless people being escorted from 1207 N. Detroit St. by Sheriff’s deputies.

Legal System Involvement

Nearly two-thirds (63.6%) of the homeless surveyed in West Hollywood have been in jail or prison, compared with 54.8% countywide. A little more than one-fifth (22.7%) of the homeless surveyed in WeHo reported no involvement with the legal system.

Other involvements with the legal system included:

— Juvenile detention or probation camp: 34.1% of WeHo respondents vs. 15.4% of those countywide

— Adult probation: 34.1% of WeHo homeless vs. 28.6% of those countywide.

— Juvenile probation: 20.5% of WeHo respondents vs. 11.6% countywide.

— On parole: 20.5% of WeHo homeless vs. 19.7% countywide.

— Experience in foster care: 18.2% of WeHo homeless vs. 12% countywide.

Off the 28 West Hollywood homeless surveyed who reported having been in jail or prison, nine said they had been released in the past 12 months. Of those, four said they were offered services to find stable housing upon release and five said they were not. Eight of the nine had been homeless when they went to jail.

Reasons for Being Homeless

Almost a third (31.8%) of those surveyed in West Hollywood said they were homeless because they didn’t have a job or for other financial reasons. Conflicts with family or household were reasons cited by 25% of the homeless surveyed in WeHo. Other major issues were drug or alcohol use (20.5%) medical or physical disability or illness (13.6%), lack of friends or family (13.6%), and mental health issues (11%).

Access to Services

Nearly a third (27.3%) of the homeless surveyed in West Hollywood said it was difficult for them to get access to basic services such as showers, bathrooms, a place to store their belongings and food and water. Among the other services that mattered most to them (ranked from 1 – not important, to 5 – very important) were help getting housing (4.35), help with benefits such as Social Security (3.89), transportation (3.74), job opportunities (3.58), physical health treatment (3.56), staying put in a specific area (3.50), and disability services (3.47)

Forty-one percent of the WeHo homeless surveyed said panhandling was a source of money for them. Recycling was a source of money for 27.3% and sex work for 18.2%. Day labor and performing on the sidewalk were sources of money for 9.1%.

Forty-one percent used food stamps and 231.8% used other forms of general relief of assistance. Medicaid or Medi-Cal or LA Care provided assistance to 20.5%. A quarter of those survey said they had no governmental assistance.


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Josh K
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Josh K

Maybe it’s too early and I’m not awake yet, but I don’t think I’m understanding the percentages listed under Race & Ethnicity section… 47.7% White (34.1% in LA County) = 21 people 40.9% Black/African-American (39.1% in LA County) = 18 people 29.5% Latino (29.8% in LA County) = 13 people 6.8% Native American/Alaskan (2.3% in LA County) = 3 people 11% Multiracial (1.9% in LA County) = 5 people 2.3% Asian (1.6% in LA County) = 1 person This totals well over 100% and equates to about 61 people (44 were surveyed). Can someone help me understand this? Were those… Read more »

George Hirst
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George Hirst

It is really bad in Long Beach as well. They build tent on the river bed by the LA river. They also camp out on the beach. The city use to close the beach at 9:pm when I lived in LB 10 year’s ago but the homeless population was not nearly as bad at that time. The city stopped closing the beach because they would rather the homeless sleep on the beach rather the business door ways, bus stops etc………….

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

Oy Vey, if we build a permanent housing project for the homeless, as you suggested, they will come …… man-o-man will they come! Our homeless population will explode.

What you TAX you get LESS of.
What you SUBSIDIZE you get MORE of.

Jim Nasium
Guest
Jim Nasium

What “kab1200” said. And I agree with “Michaelz” too. Weho should be surveying and interviewing city staff at Beverly Hills. That would be more useful information.

michaelz
Guest
michaelz

what is the Homeless situation in Beverly Hills ?

kab1200
Guest
kab1200

I don’t think they walked down Santa Monica Blvd and interviewed anyone to get these stats. Just saying. I don’t see what they report here in these numbers. I see old and young, white and black, totally mental, and not so much, drugged up, and drunk, and totally sober. Mostly , mental.

Joshua88
Guest
Joshua88

An important and comprehensive study. What are we going to do with the information?

Oy Vey
Guest
Oy Vey

This very impressive and detailed study highlights that West Hollywood, the pioneering LGBTQ city, and the creative one at that, cannot shrug off OUR HOMELESS problem by contracting with ineffective out of City service providers. We need to OWN UP to OUR ISSUE and HOUSE the homeless. The City of LA and LA County have embraced Permanent Supportive Housing for the chronically homeless – and have put their money behind such housing. Instead of building $100 million park monuments for ego, and buying land for more parking lots, the City needs to step up, act like a mature municipality with… Read more »