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Homelessness is on the rise in LA, but pandemic aid helped prevent a larger increase

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Homelessness is increasing in Los Angeles, according to new numbers out today. But officials say, the city's unhoused population would have been even bigger if it weren't for pandemic aid. Anna Scott of member station KCRW reports.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: It's not good news, but it's not as bad as it could be. That is what LA officials are saying about the results of this year's homeless count. It found about 69,000 people living on the streets and in shelters throughout LA County, a more than 4% increase over 2020. While that's bad, it's a lot smaller than the double-digit increases LA has seen in recent years. Officials say that one-time federal relief dollars distributed during the pandemic seriously slowed down the number of people falling into homelessness.

MOLLY RYSMAN: If there's one thing you take away from these results - we want you to see how policy and investments matter.

SCOTT: Molly Rysman is co-executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency that oversees the count. They skipped it last year because of COVID, so this is the first snapshot we've seen since the pandemic began.

RYSMAN: Tenant protections like eviction moratoria and rental assistance implemented by the county and city of LA helped people stay in their homes and not fall into homelessness.

LARRY GROSS: An increase is an increase.

SCOTT: That's Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. He doesn't buy the official optimistic take on these numbers.

GROSS: We should not be patting ourselves on the back for any type of increase in homelessness.

SCOTT: Gross' organization runs programs to help struggling renters. He says, all that pandemic relief has done for LA, in terms of homelessness, is kick the can down the road. With most of that relief either already dried up or expected to end this year, Gross says, LA's tight housing market and astronomical rents will catch up with it again, maybe in time for next year's homeless count. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Scott