Burbank saw a marginal increase in its homeless population since last year, according to a countywide count, but officials said statistics are likely understated.
A count released Thursday by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said Burbank’s total homeless population in January was 291, only a few more than the 282 people counted in 2019.
It was a noticeably less severe jump than in the prior year; from 2018 to 2019, there were 82 additional homeless people recorded in Burbank in the authority’s annual point-in-time count.
However, LAHSA’s executive director, Heidi Marston, cautioned in a news release that the count was made before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has likely caused more people to fall into homelessness as legions of workers throughout the nation lost their jobs.
The statistic for Los Angeles County’s homeless population, which increased 12.7% from the previous year to a total of 66,436 — meaning that roughly 7,500 more people were homeless this year than in 2019 — is also likely an underestimate for that reason.
Additionally, the city figure excludes some groups, including unsheltered homeless individuals ages 18-24, and people in domestic violence shelters.
Though the total homeless population of Burbank has increased and most of it remains without shelter, city Housing Development Manager Marcos Gonzalez pointed out that, according to the LAHSA count, the number of unsheltered homeless individuals actually decreased by three persons to roughly 207.
The number of sheltered homeless people, such as those in transitional housing or emergency shelters, increased from 73 to 84 — a 15% bump.
“We don’t want to have people living in conditions that are a health risk for them and also for the community,” he said in a phone interview. “That remains our main goal, to keep people off the street [and] in some form of interim housing and permanent housing.”
Among unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in Burbank, more than 29% were estimated to live on the street, in a tent or in a makeshift shelter, compared to nearly 41% in January 2019.
While more of Burbank’s homeless are finding shelter, Robert Newman of StreetPlus, an organization that contracts with the city to provide hospitality services and homelessness outreach, said he isn’t surprised the overall count didn’t decrease.
“There’s a lot of things going on with homelessness,” he said in a phone interview. “Besides alcohol, drugs and mental illnesses, which are contributing factors, there are socioeconomic factors.”
The city has tried to address some of those factors, which include high housing costs. Ambassadors from StreetPlus and members of the Burbank Police Department’s Mental Health Evaluation Team conduct wellness checks and refer resources to the homeless. A partnership with the Family Fellowship of the Verdugos provides rapid rehousing, and the nonprofit also facilitated the city’s rental assistance program for low-income residents.
On Tuesday, the City Council pledged to allocate thousands of dollars in federal grants to homelessness initiatives, including $30,000 for the Burbank Temporary Aid Center and more than $43,000 for the rapid rehousing program through the Family Fellowship of the Verdugos.
Burbank staff members have also been reaching out to members of the local homeless population and referring them to county programs, such as interim housing, according to Gonzalez.
The threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which Newman said can increase the severity of other aspects of homelessness, led the city to shelter 19 people through Project Roomkey, a state initiative housing at-risk homeless people in hotel rooms.
“Regardless of the count, we have to come up with the programs and the solutions for the broader demographic [of] the homeless community,” stressed Newman, who often emphasizes working closely with individual homeless persons, “because the cookie-cutter approach doesn’t cut it.”
Two-thirds of unsheltered adults counted in L.A. County this year said they were homeless for the first time last year, according to a LAHSA news release, and 59% said they became homeless due to economic hardship.