Finding the Best Location for an Alternative Shelter Model to Address Rising Family Homelessness 

in the City of Los Angeles

Presented by: Clarine Ovando-Lacroux


I. Introduction:

  a. Definition of Homeless:

Data on homeless persons living in Los Angeles is collected every two years through the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Point in Time Count. This point in time count, provides a snapshot of homelessness, counting sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families at a particular time.  The term unsheltered homeless refers to persons living in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings . On the other hand, the term sheltered homeless refers to persons staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs or in areas hidden from public view such as: living doubled up, living in hotel/motels through Temporary Assistance Benefits (TANF), living in institutions such as local and county jails, hospital emergency rooms and beds, and residential alcohol and drug treatment programs. These individuals would be literally homeless if they were not residing in one of these programs (LAHSA, 2011, 21). Quantifying the homeless population and spatialy mapping homelessness are essential tools to guide the allocation of limited resources for housing services and homeless prevention planning.

I propose to use data collected through the 2009 and 2011 Homeless Point in Time Counts in  combination with information on emergency shelters and transitional housing programs to  identify areas in the City of Los Angeles where there is a lack of adequate housing services for homeless families.

b. Homelessness in the City of Los Angeles:

The city of Los Angeles, our principal area of study, has an estimated 23,539 homeless persons on any given night. Despite the lingering effects of the recession; increases in unemployment levels, continuing foreclosures, budget cuts in public benefits programs and an overall increase in national poverty,the number of homeless persons on any given night in the City of Los Angeles has decreased by 8.7% since 2009. Homeless service providers have associated this tendency with enhanced local homeless prevention efforts and the expansion of rapid re-housing programs facilitated by President Obama’s stimulus funding.
Map 1: Percentage Change in Homelessness
2009 – 2011 Point in Time Count

Map 2: 2011 Homeless Persons Point in Time Count Estimate 

Map 2 shows the distribution of homeless persons based on data collected from the Homeless Count organized in Januray 2011. Council District 12 in the San Fernando Valley  stands out as the least homeless populated district with about 5 homeless persons for every 10’000 residents. In contrast, Council District 9 in South Los Angeles shows the highest rate of homelessness,  with approximately 225 homeless persons for every 10’000 resident; 45 times as much as CD 12.

Whilst the overall homeless population on any given night may have decreased since 2009, Family homelessness has done quite the opposite. In fact, with a 111% overall increase since 2009, family homelessness represents the fastest growing segment of the homeless population (a homeless family is defined by HUD as a household with one or more adults accompanied by at least one child under 18) (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). According to the national alliance on family homelessness, homeless families typicaly comprise of a mother in her late twenties with two children, in fact nationaly 84% of families experiencing homelessness are female-headed (The National Center of Family Homelessness).

Map 3: Percentage Change in Family Homelessness
2009 – 2011 Point in Time Count
Map 4: 2011 Homeless Family Members Point in Time Count Estimate 

What explains the dramatic increases in the number of homeless families? Family homelessness is caused by a multitude of interwoven systemic and personal issues; lack of affordable housing, domestic violence, extreme poverty, addictions, unemployment and decreasing government supports to mention a few. Homeless prevention advocates also cited increased numbers of renters whose landlords were foreclosed on and were then unable to find the first and last month’s rent and security deposit to find new accommodation (Colvin, 2008), whilst the non profit organization Beyond Shelter cites the growing gap between housing costs and income as the primary cause of homelessness among families. One possible explanation for the gap in time between the start of the recession and rising family homelessness is the fact that families generaly have a stronger support network which they use before becoming homeless.

In the city of Los Angeles, Family Homelessness accounts for 19% of the total homeless population with an estimated 5’284 homeless family members on any given night. Council district 12 continues to show the lowest rate of family homeless with about 2 family members that are homeless for every 10’000 resident. This is quite a contrast to the 52 family members that are homeless for every 10’000 resident in Council District 8. We also note that the percentage of chronic family homelessness is much less than that of the total homeless population; 7% for homeless family members vs 30% for the total homeless population. This suggests that homeless families tend to experience fewer episodes of “literal” homelessness in a given year.  Homeless Families are more likley to live doubled-up in overcrowded households or to send their children to live with relatives to avoid shelter life (The National Center of Family Homelessness).

II. Network Analysis: A simple task can become complicated when one does not have access to adequate housing.

The objective of using a network analysis for this project is to illustrate the vital role that access to adequate housing has in our daily lives.  Map 5 conveys the idea that without access to adequate housing, a simple task such as going to an interview can be extremely complicated to accomplish. Indeed, a homeless person would have to make a number of stops before he is ready to present himself for Job interview as opposed to a sheltered person who has a number of amenities available to him in the comfort of his home.

Based on my experience with homeless individuals in Tampa Florida, I saw first hand how some easy tasks were render lengthy, complicated and at times impossible by having to compensate for not having certain facilities in proximity. To illustrate some of these added complications, let us take the example of a homeless individual named John as he gets ready for a job interview at a restaurant located on Sunset Blvd.

1. John sleeps in the back alley of a coffee bean located on Westwood blvd. He has an agreement with the store that as soon as the first clients come in at around 6am, he has to vacate the premises.

2. John’s first stop is at a laundry facility where he’ll get clean clothes for his interview

3. John will then seek for a place to shower: often times, homeless persons will use hospitals facilities, making their way through emergency rooms unnoticed.

4. A huge inconvenience when moving around is having to constantly carry along all of ones belongings for lack of having secure storage. One option is to hide ones belongings in the bushes, hoping that no one will steel them (sleeping bags and covers are often stolen!). John decides to leave his belongings with a trusted friend who stays in Westwood park.

5. John doesn’t want to go to the interview on an empty stomach. He stops by a soup kitchen at the Prebyterian Church in Brentwood that offers warm lunches ever day of the week. This may be John’s only hot meal of the day.

6.Sunset boulevard is not at walking distance, and John just spent his last change on laundry. He decides to panhandle in front of a nearby coffee shop in order to get enough change for the bus.

7. John makes all the way to Sunset Blvd for his interview

8. By the time he is done, it is late afternoon and he needs to go back to the park to collect his belongings.

9. John is back at his sleeping location.

Were John not homeless, his trip would have been much shorter as he would have the necessary facilities in his home.

Map 4: Network Analysis Showing the Route a Homeless Individual Would Have to Take for a Simple Task 

III. Where are Current Homeless Shelters and Transitional Housing Programs Located

Map 6: Emergency Shelters and Transitional Housing Programs
serving the Homeless

The lack of available shelters keeps individuals in longer periods of literal homelessness and can lead to devastating health issues or psychological trauma. This is especially true for families living on the streets with children. In fact, children living on the streets are in turn much more likely to experience multiple episodes of literal homelessness throughout their lives as a consequence.

Map 6 shows the location of emergency shelters and transitional housing programs serving the homeless in Los Angeles. With approximately 19’000 beds available on any given night to serve the homeless, many are forced to stay on the streets. This sheds light to a shelter gridlock problem whereby new shelter requests cannot be accommodated due to program overcrowding and extended stays (Beyond Shelter, 2011, 2).

The number of shelters and housing programs available to Homeless Families in particular is quite restricted. Indeed, admission criteria for emergency shelters tends to systematically separate adult females, adult males and children. Transitional programs will also have restrictions, for example some programs refuse to serve parents who have a psychiatric disability, or children above a specific age. (Beyond Shelter, 2011, 6).The 2006 U.S Conference of Mayors report found that in 55% of the cities surveyed families are forced to split up in order to find shelter. This has devastating effects on homeless families who consequently have much higher rates of family separation than other families (National Center on Family Homelessness).

Map 7: Emergency Shelters and Transitional Housing Programs
Accepting Homeless Families

IV. Spatial Analysis: Locating areas with greatest need for Shelters accommodating Homeless Families. 

The objective of this project is to identify areas where there is a spatial mismatch between the available services and the population in need; in this case homeless families. The ideal location for the creation of an additional shelter or program would be precisely in such an area but additionally the ideal location would depend on other factors such as proximity to public transit, to schools, parks and other service providers. For the purpose of this project, we will identify ideal locations for the establishment of a program to assist homeless families, based on need, proximity to major bus lines, proximity to department of children and family services sites and finally in an area that is not already served by a shelter. To do so we will compound a number of factors together to create a hot spot analysis.

A kernel density on the number of beds available in shelters will provide a series of density buffers based on capacity of shelters; the ideal location being in the least dense areas.

Map 8: Kernel Density on # of Beds in Shelters (Reclassified)

A eucliean distance from bus transit lines provides a series of buffers based on proximity to bus lines; the most ideal locations for this project shoul be in close proximity to bus lines.

Map 9: Euclidean Distance from Bus Transit Lines (Reclassified)

A feature to raster on the number of homeless families as per the 2011 PIT count classifies the most dense to least dense areas; the ideal location being in areas with greatest density/need.

Map 10: Feature to Raster on # of Homeless Families based on PIT Count 2011 (Reclassified)

A Euclidean distance on existing department of children and family services sites provides proximity buffers to these locations, the ideal location being as close to these sites as possible.

Map 11: Euclidean Distance from Department of Children and Family Services Sites (Reclassified)

The resulting hot spot analysis creates an index of areas that best fit our preferences (weighed according to level of importance); the darkest areas corresponding to the most ideal locations for this program.

Map 12: Hot Spot Analysis: areas with greatest need for homeless shelters accommodating homeless families

As mentioned previously, constructing an addition emergency shelter in the identified locations or increasing capacity of nearby facilities are feasible options. However, studies have shown that these options are not necessarily wise investment in both human and economic terms. In economic terms and using Washington DC as an example, the average length of stay in a family shelter systems is 186 days at a cost of 62$ per family per day. Placing families in motels is even more expensive; in 2003 the state of Massachusetts was spending up to 6’000$ per household for every two months a family stayed in a motel (Beyond shelter, 2011, 6). In terms of human costs, traditional forms of emergency shelters and transitional housing programs incur tremendous strains on the homeless families. Restrictive entrance requirements and rigid program rules which are not always conductive to meeting the needs of many homeless families with children are one example.

I propose to look at an alternative to traditional emergency shelters; the scatter site master leasing model. This model fits within the context of a Housing First approach which seeks to move families out of shelters and into permanent housing of many different types as quickly as possible, with usually time-limited, home based support services provided after placement in permanent housing to help households stabilize (p.2, beyond shelter). The objective being to minimize the duration of shelter stays through efforts to rehouse families as quickly as possible.  However, the approach also recognizes that the transition from emergency shelters and conventional forms of transitional housing programs to permanent housing whether it is supportive permanent housing or is a lengthy process. Indeed, efforts to identify rental units, obtain financial assistance or rent subsidies takes time (Beyond Shelter, 2011, 2).

There is therefore a clear need for an alternative stable housing mechanism bridging the gap from emergency shelters to permanent housing.

In a scatter site master leasing model, a homeless service provider is the leaseholder of various scattered rental units and the homeless family is the “guest”. The homeless agency identifies vacant rental units in the private market and then negotiates rental terms with the property owner. A homeless family will occupy the furnished unit, receiving visits from case managers, until they are able to move into permanent housing or in some cases, the homeless family is able to use their section 8 voucher to become the lease holder of the same unit. In addition, families are able to take existing furniture with them to their new location. Once moved into permanent housing, families will continue to receive home visits by case managers over a given period of time. This model allows families to start establishing stable living patterns while working on a permanent housing plan and provides the basis from which families can fully benefit from other services. In addition, such a model has proven to be considerably less costly than existing emergency shelter or transitional housing programs. In fact, in a master leasing demonstration model that was implemented in Los Angeles the average cost fluctuated between 38$ a night, plus utilities, and 79$ depending on the length of stay (Beyond Shelter, 2011, 8).

Map 13: Close-up of Potential Location 

This last map takes a closer look at a possible location for a an initial scatter site master lease program in the Wilmington area (CD 15). Future research could include the identification of vacant fair market rate rentals in the area and the various services in proximity.

Works Cited:

Colvin, Ross. Family Homelessness Rising in the United States. Reuters. 12 Nov. 2008. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

Family Homelessness. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

Housing First: Ending Family Homelessness. Beyond Shelter, 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

Hunger and Homelessness Survey. US Conference of Mayors, 2006. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

Macy-Hurley, R., and Tull, T. Alternative Shelter Models to Address Rising Family Homelessness: Preliminary Investigation into the Social and Economic Benefits of Master Leasing Scattered-Site Apartments as Emergency Shelter. Los Angeles: Beyond Shelter, 2009.

 The Characteristics and Needs of Families Experiencing Homelessness. The National Center on Family Homelessness, 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report. Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.

Data Sources:

Data on emergency shelters and transitional housing programs obtained through the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority

UCLA Mapshare


American FactFinder

Tiger Files

Skills Used:

Original Data: Emergency Shelters and Transitional Housing Programs (location and capacity). Measurement/Analysis: Network Analysis (walking distance). Charts: Pie Charts. Model: For spatial analysis. Hot Spot Analysis: Spatial Analyst. Network Analysis: Network Analyst. Google Maps Api.