Oakwood Secondary School

The Los Angeles homelessness crisis: Looking to 2021

2020 was a brutal year by virtually every measure. COVID-19 has, of course, dominated the headlines, as it has been a scourge on its own. However, it also significantly exacerbated the serious social problems that we were facing before it hit. In Los Angeles, one of the most profound complications has involved our homeless community.

This past June, Los Angeles Homeless Services released the homeless count for 2020. The data was collected at the beginning of January 2020, so the effects of the pandemic were not recorded.

The count showed 66,436 people homeless in Los Angeles County, and 41,290 in the city of Los Angeles – representing an increase of 12.7% and 16.1%, respectively, from 2019. This extends an unfortunate trend: In 2019, California reported the greatest increase of any state, and now has over a quarter of the nation’s homeless population.

Despite the many challenges in 2020, a great deal has been done. Organizations have mobilized, creating new pandemic-safe protocols. Groups offering permanent and temporary housing as well as supportive services and programs continued their work remotely or with new protective measures.

For example, People Assisting the Homeless, operates nine interim housing facilities, 14 supportive housing buildings, street outreach across four counties, case management for over 4,000 people and has continued to aid 20% of California’s homeless.

Other groups have served meals, and delivered hygiene and care kits; On Christmas Day alone, Midnight Mission served over 400 meals and delivered 500 kits. 

The state government has also launched initiatives to address the problem. Project Home key, which buys motels and other buildings and uses them as permanent housing, and Project Roomkey, which rents hotel rooms that homeless people can move into, has led to one of the fastest expansions of housing options to date. 

However, as the city has continued to struggle with the crisis, new challenges arise — namely, identification of those at risk of and currently experiencing homelessness. Due to COVID, the city government has received permission to cancel the 2021 homeless count, according to AP News.

The cancelation is understandable, as deploying thousands of volunteers to collect data throughout Los Angeles isn’t currently safe. But this does add a layer of complexity for those formulating a plan of action for 2021.

There are two primary challenges to overcome. The first is the allocation of supplies, as the homeless count determines how the federal government delegates resources, according to AP News. Current information is important so the city can gauge the size and severity of the problem, and identify areas of greatest urgency.

The second is vaccine distribution. Under the CDC’s tiered distribution system, the homeless population is set to receive the vaccine in Phase 1B, Tier 2, which is expected to begin in the next month, according to CalMatters.

However, there are concerns that some homeless individuals may be apprehensive about receiving the vaccine because of negative experiences with healthcare providers and others in positions of authority. It will also be difficult logistically to keep records of who is getting the vaccine and to ensure that individuals get the second required dose. 

Given the challenges of functioning in a COVID and post-COVID environment, the groups tackling the homelessness issue need more help than ever.  There are fortunately many such organizations — and as agendas are prioritized for 2021, they are all eager for support.

A non-exhaustive list for Los Angeles includes:

PATH has helped over 9000 people find permanent housing since 2013. On their website are opportunities to volunteer, such as assembling care kits remotely or donating. 


Downtown Women’s Center is focused on giving women experiencing homelessness the services they need. Visit their website for more information on how you can help them provide these women with 3 meals a day, counseling, healthcare, and more.


Los Angeles Mission has been sheltering, feeding, and supporting the homeless since 1936. In 2019, they served over 400,000 meals. Since the pandemic started, they have doubled the number of food boxes they give out weekly. On their website, you can find details regarding donations of canned and dried goods.


Hollywood Food Coalition provides hot meals every night, 365 days a year, and has given over 1.5 million meals. They have implemented a full set of COVID protocols, and continue to serve people in need. Check their website for more information on volunteer shifts and donations. 


Weingart Center offers services to over 40,000 people per year. They offer a 9 month program and supportive services to help individuals stabilize their lives, and supply them with the tools they need to succeed, breaking the cycle of poverty. 


Urban Partners LA distributes tens of thousands of pounds of groceries each week, offers tutoring services to both adults and children, and has served over 270,000 since 1993. Find out more on their website.