The Atlantic

Nobody Knows What to Do About L.A.’s Homelessness Crisis

Ahead of the first presidential debates, the nationwide squeeze on affordable housing has barely registered on the campaign trail.
Source: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

LOS ANGELES—The problem is anything but invisible. Tent cities line freeway underpasses mere blocks from some of the richest zip codes in the nation. Rat infestations and human waste from makeshift encampments—such as those just outside city hall’s iconic Art Deco tower and the main downtown police precinct—are suspected in cases of flea-borne typhus and typhoid fever spread by contaminated food.

Those are the Joe Friday facts.

Yet the news this month that Los Angeles County’s homeless population grew by 12 percent last year—to just under 59,000 people, enough to fill Dodger Stadium to overflowing—still managed to shock this city’s civic and political establishment. Within the Los Angeles city limits alone, the increase was 16 percent, to more than 36,000 people. Overall, about three-quarters of homeless residents are living completely outside, without adequate sanitation, sparking fears of a public-health crisis and the spread of medieval diseases.

And all of this after the previous year’s census showed a slight decrease in homelessness here—and after local

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