Homelessness is viewed by many as the most serious problem facing Los Angeles. Since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, there has been increased policy activity related to unsheltered homelessness. This has coincided with a lack of accurate data on the number and characteristics of unsheltered individuals due to the cancellation in early 2020 of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual “point-in-time” count and demographic survey. More broadly, little is known about how the population of unsheltered individuals varies over shorter intervals, and there is a significant lack of information about individuals’ housing needs and preferences and their experiences with county housing provision infrastructure.
To better inform the development of effective homelessness policy, RAND researchers set out to determine the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness over the course of a year in selected areas of Los Angeles. The researchers conducted periodic counts of people, vehicles, tents, and makeshift shelters in Skid Row, Hollywood, Venice, and “Veterans Row” — areas with historically high concentrations of street homelessness or recent increases in street encampments. In addition, they conducted random surveys of a subsample of these individuals to collect data on demographics, past experiences with the housing system, and housing needs and preferences.
In this report, the researchers present results from the first four months of fieldwork. They plan to continue conducting counts and will present the full study findings in a final report.