The Periodic Assessment of Trajectories of Housing, Health and Homelessness Study, or PATHS, is a joint initiative between USC and UCLA aimed at shining a light on the lives and experiences of PEH in LA County. PATHS features a representative sample of PEH who were unsheltered at study baseline, with ongoing monthly survey tracking on housing, health, and well-being even if respondents move into housing or shelter. In October 2022, we released an initial baseline report titled “Under Threat,” which revealed substantial concern among PEH about the threat posed by camping ordinances.
This report extends on these initial findings by reporting on experiences of encampment sweeps occurring April-September 2023 and on housing and health trajectories observed throughout 2022-2023. Key findings include:
Over half of unsheltered respondents experienced a sweep, with most experiencing more than one sweep. Sweeps occur regularly across all parts of LA City and County. Respondents were predominantly informed about sweeps by law enforcement officers (53%), not by outreach workers, resulting in a four-fold increase in the monthly risk of police citation for months in which a sweep occurred vs. other months (9% vs. 2%). Shockingly, only 13% of respondents received a shelter/housing offer during a sweep, 9% actually moved into the offered shelter/housing, and just 5% stayed for even a month.
Looking beyond the specific context of sweeps, the study also explores the tenuous progress in rehousing efforts more broadly. Over the past year, we track little trend in the rates of shelter or housing among the PATHS panel. We do observe considerable churn out of and back into homelessness, with 53% leaving the streets at some point. But temporary options of shelter/interim housing showed poor success, with half of those who spent time in shelters later becoming unsheltered. Permanent housing performed considerably better, with >90% retention, yet only 7% of our sample were able to access permanent housing.
Our analysis of health care access by housing status further established the advantages of permanent housing relative to temporary options. In months spent in permanent housing, respondents reported 25% to 60% improvements in health care access. Months spent in shelters showed little advantage over unsheltered, with the exception of lower levels of food insecurity. While current samples are small, we did find that respondents staying in agency-run hotels were half as likely to visit the ER in a given month and saw fewer missed doctor’s appointments.