Los Angeles' homeless population has jumped 16% from 2018

Surrounding counties boast even higher increases.

Homeless man

A pedestrian walks past a man sleeping on a sidewalk in Los Angeles on May 30, 2019.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
  • Los Angeles County claims nearly 59,000 homeless, a 12 percent increase, while the city itself is up 16 percent.
  • It's not only LA: Orange County is up 42 percent; Alameda County, 43 percent; Kern County, 50 percent; and San Francisco, 17 percent.
  • Angelenos need to make $47.52 an hour to afford the median rent price in the city.


Skid Row is unlike any other sight you'll witness in America. The city within the city — in a downtown, it should be noted, that is currently booming — represents a failure of social services, pay equity, and simple opportunity in every regard. And the problem is getting worse. Sixteen percent worse, according to new research.

Los Angeles County now boasts nearly 59,000 homeless, a 12 percent increase from last year. In the city itself, there are over 36,000 homeless, representing a 16 percent increase. The city estimates that 75 percent of this number, roughly 44,000 citizens, live outdoors.

It's not only Los Angeles. Orange County has noted a 42 percent uptick in homeless residents, mostly due to new, more comprehensive counting measures. In nearby Alameda County, the number of homeless is up 43 percent; in Kern County, a whopping 50 percent. Further upstate, San Francisco's homeless population has seen a 17 percent increase.

This issue has been especially problematic in downtown Los Angeles, where a housing shortage has led to skyrocketing prices of homes and rentals. California currently boasts seven of the top ten spots for studio and one-bedroom rentals in the nation; for two-bedroom rentals, it holds eight of the top ten slots. Los Angeles is tied for third in the 2019 "Most Expensive Cities To Live In" list. That is a global list.

Homeless Population Growing On LA's Westside

The dichotomy between wealth and poverty living in close proximity is nothing new, of course. Silicon Valley is dealing with a serious RV problem as longtime residents are priced out of the cities wedged on the sliver of land between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

While local officials are kicking RV dwellers out, Los Angeles officials are throwing their hands up in confusion. In 2015, the city council declared the homeless problem to be a state of emergency, allocating $100 million to housing and training citizens. Part of this money came from a local sales tax increase, Measure H, that is adding $355 million each year to combat homelessness. Still, the number of homeless rises.

Officials cite the housing crisis as the main driver of this problem, noting that to afford the average median rent here, Angelenos need to make $47.52 an hour. The countywide median family income is $69,300. You need to be pulling in roughly $100,000 to meet the median rent, causing Forbes to list LA as the worst city to rent in, given that residents pay an average 41 percent of their salary on rent.

And forget about buying a home. A stunning 92 percent of homes in Los Angeles are out of reach to the average citizen.

A man walks past a homeless encampment beneath an overpass in Los Angeles, California. The homeless population count in Los Angeles County leaped 12 percent in the past year to almost 59,000, according to officials.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Some organizations have taken measures into their own hands, such as by converting old hotels into low-income housing and homeless shelters. Yet the conversions aren't quick or widespread enough to make an impact in the rising numbers of homeless. Combating homelessness in LA is often more sentimental than practical as neighborhoods battle the construction of low-cost housing and shelters when they are proposed.

Sadly, one of the groups most affected by this surge in homelessness is 18-24 year olds, increasing 24 percent over the past year. The "chronically homeless" — citizens with mental or physical impairments that have been homeless for over a year — jumped 17 percent.

According to one organization, Los Angles County needs to add 517,000 additional units of affordable housing to meet the demand. That number seems impossible in a city where every new building advertises luxury. In my Palms neighborhood, new one-bedroom rentals rarely list for under $3,000 a month.

Something is amiss. Unemployment rates are supposedly at record lows, yet hundred of thousands of Californians are living on the streets. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. job openings outnumber the number of unemployed by the widest gap ever. Many jobs available plus many homeless should be easy math. The numbers aren't adding up — especially on the streets of Los Angeles.

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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