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The Roots of the Homelessness Crisis

skid row homelessness

Homelessness in Los Angeles is a problem that has plagued the region for over a century. While many have tried to introduce solutions, the homeless population keeps increasing. 

In late 2022, LA Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency on the issue. 

Although everyone is aware of the crisis, not many are sure of how it arose. Thus, what are the roots of the homelessness crisis? 

The History of Skid Row

When people think of homelessness in Los Angeles, their first thought is often of Skid Row. For nearly 100 years, it has been an apex of homelessness in LA. 

The problems skyrocketed during The Great Depression when a failing economy and dry conditions around the country forced many to Los Angeles and the American Southwest. 

It wasn’t just outsiders though, around 28% of Californians were unemployed in 1932. 

Due to Skid Row’s proximity to the rail line in Los Angeles, it was where many settled as they looked for work. By the middle of the 20th century, it was the nucleus for low-income and homeless Angelenos. 

In the 60s and 70s, many of the cheap hotels in that area were demolished due to not being up to code. The result was the loss of 15,000 housing units, which exacerbated homelessness.  

Since then, the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles has spread far beyond the streets of Skid Row. How did that happen? 


The climate is a huge part of somebody deciding on where to live. It’s a primary factor in why homes are more expensive in Southern California than they are in Detroit, Michigan. 

For those experiencing homelessness, it's easy to assume that it is no different. Despite California making up just over 10% of the country’s total population, 30% of the nation's homeless population resides in the state. 

However, the warm weather in California has less to do with homelessness than one might think. Although, it might play a role in how the state and other local municipalities handle the issue. 

New York City and Los Angeles are the two major cities in America and share many things in common, including a major homelessness crisis. However, the crisis looks very different in Manhattan than it does here. 

In 2022, 70% of homeless people in LA County were unsheltered compared to only 5% in New York. In short, the climate might not be a primary factor in why people are homeless in California, but it may play a role in the way lawmakers treat the issues. 


The California housing market has two major issues lawmakers have been trying to fix for years: shortages and rising costs. 

The state ranks 49th in the nation in housing units per capita, only ahead of Utah. According to the LAHSA, Los Angeles has the fewest housing units per adult in any metropolitan area in America. 

Additionally, the Greater Los Angeles area has among the highest housing costs in the nation. In a study by Yahoo, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $2400. To put it in perspective, a person making the minimum wage earns $2480 a month. 

recent study in California found that rising housing costs played a major factor in the rise of homelessness. According to the Mayor of San Fransisco, the median household income before people became homeless was $960 a month, far short of the amount needed to pay rent in any major California city. 

While zoning laws and the difficulty of building affordable housing make it harder to keep people housed, one thing is true: Californians are being priced out. 

Although other reasons such as mental health and substance abuse issues have forced people into homelessness, the systemic problem is housing. 

Keep up with BOMA on the Frontline for the latest news in the Greater Los Angeles area. 

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