Fear of falling into homelessness is urgent threat for many L.A. voters, new poll finds

L.A. voters want the government to focus on shelter for homeless people living in the streets, even if those efforts are short term, a poll has found.

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12/2/2021 1:04:00 AM

Most voters continue to express empathy for homeless people, but also impatience and disappointment with the region’s leadership, according to a new poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute in cooperation with The Times.

L.A. voters want the government to focus on shelter for homeless people living in the streets, even if those efforts are short term, a poll has found.

. Most experts in the region expect the number to jump when the count is conducted again this winter.Countywide, pessimists about homelessness outnumber optimists, 44%-35%.“I think it reflects how debilitated we all feel,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in an interview about the poll results.

“How many years and how many new tents — even as we have successes — can we see in a neighborhood before we feel that we need some short-term places to stabilize people that are on the street?”AdvertisementThe widespread concern — and the deep frustration on the part of many voters — suggests that homelessness will be a top issue for candidates in next year’s elections. L.A. voters

for the first time in eight years, and voters countywide will choose members of the board of supervisors.A homeless man sleeps on the street in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 15.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)Lawrence “Drew” Whitlock, a 66-year-old painting contractor who lives in Playa del Rey and was another of the focus group participants, expressed the frustration many voters feel. His truck and his home have been burglarized, and he had a knife pulled on him by a homeless person recently, he said. headtopics.com

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“I don’t resent them, I want the best for them,” he said of homeless people in his neighborhood.“I would do whatever I can reasonably to help. But it’s interfering with the quality of my life,” he said.Morino, the student and mom who left Mar Vista, is a former foster care youth who now has four foster children along with two kids she’s adopted and a newborn. She said the children she fostered had been homeless, and she has experienced housing insecurity as well. For her, homelessness is a “pandemic” that the government has failed to even attempt to cure — one that she has seen firsthand.

“A lot of the mayors, governors, city people, they always say ‘vote for me, we’re going to get in the office and get the job done. We’re going to clean up this homeless problem, and you’re going to pay this amount of taxes,’” she said.“It’s like nothing has been done. The taxes have increased. ...Our politicians need to step up and take some accountability for what’s happening in our streets.”

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Candidates are keenly aware that homelessness will be top of mind, staking out positions on the issue and, in some cases,to highlight their stands.AdvertisementAlmost three-quarters of respondents said that homelessness should be the most important or a very strong priority for newly elected or reelected officials. headtopics.com

“It’s not just that people aren’t happy with their leaders. It’s that they don’t really even know what they’re doing or who the leader is, who is supposed to do something about this crisis,” said Aileen Cardona-Arroyo, a senior analyst at Hart Research.

Voters are “shaken and upset” and many are “close to the boiling point,” said veteran pollster Peter Hart, who helped oversee the survey. “There’s not a lot of optimism.”Even with the anger surrounding the crisis, respondents to the poll appear to have a clear picture of what’s driving thousands of Angelenos to sleep on the streets and who is responsible for addressing the crisis.

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The poll showed broad agreement that societal problems — especially a lack of affordable housing and mental health resources — play a major role in causing homelessness.Just over 60% of respondents said that the primary cause of homelessness was either a lack of affordable housing and wages that aren’t keeping up with the cost of living (35%) or a failure to provide access to healthcare for mental and physical illness (27%).

Just 18% said that the primary cause of homelessness was a homeless person’s own actions and decisions.How a voter responded to that question strongly correlated with other views in the survey. Those who blame broad, societal problems for homelessness are significantly more likely to support government action to combat it. headtopics.com

Black and Latino voters were most likely to cite the cost of housing and low wages as a prime cause of homelessness. White voters more often cited healthcare. People who identified themselves as conservatives were more likely to point to an individual’s own decisions.

AdvertisementEncampments block nearly the entire sidewalk on 1st Street between Spring and Broadway.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)Voters also expressed skepticism about clearing encampments without offering people a place to go, such as a hotel room or other temporary shelter, or services like medical care.

A majority, 64%, said that when an encampment is cleared, homeless people are most likely to move to other encampments in the region, rather than find shelter or permanent housing (19%) or leave the region (10%).Recent efforts to clear encampments have had varying degrees of success in getting people into shelter or housing. Outreach officials have said their ability to get people off the street hinges on the availability of beds in shelters and hotel rooms, which the city and county rented for homeless people at the outset of the pandemic.

Fifty-two percent of voters said that providing services to individuals living within encampments should be a higher priority for officials than clearing encampments out of parks and neighborhoods, favored as the top priority by 39%.On that question, as with several others, a significant difference exists along racial and ethnic lines.

A large majority of Black voters, 66%, said officials should put a priority on providing services, while white voters were more closely divided on the question, 49%-40%. Latinos, by 56%-38%, favored providing services. Asian American voters were also closely divided, with 48% favoring clearing camps, and 41% providing services.

City Beat: When homeless people tell their own stories, we should listen and not turn awayThe “We the Unhoused” podcast documents homelessness from the perspective of a homeless person. Such stories are vitally important.Over the past two years, the city has poured tens of millions of dollars into a range of interim housing solutions — some of which are not cheap —and moved forward on creating areas of the city where homeless people cannot sit, lie or sleep.

Theo Henderson, an activist and creator of the podcast “We the Unhoused,” said he thinks voters’ desire for quick solutions stems partially from their preference to sweep homelessness out of sight. He was encouraged to hear that the poll found that voters felt that broader structural forces were the main reason individuals became homeless.

Advertisementspent on the Los Angeles Police Departmentand for more to be spent on things that help get people out of homelessness.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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