Where Do Unhoused People Go During the Day?

The 2023 annual Homeless Count released by the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) in June, showed us that there are at least 75,000 people of all ages experiencing homelessness across our region, who are in need not only of a place to sleep at night but also critical services during the day. The question is, where do they go, what do they do, and what do they need the most?

To answer these simple but significant questions, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, in partnership with the nonprofit RAND Corporation, release today ‘Somewhere to Exist’, a report on daytime services provision for people experiencing homelessness in LA County that explores the number of services they have access to during the day, including food, health and social services, personal hygiene, respite, storage, and technology.

“This report points to the clear and urgent need for increased investment and solutions for the 55,155 people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness, right now.” said Chris Ko, Vice President for Impact & Strategy for United Way of Greater L.A. “While we’ve made significant investments in emergency housing and places for people to sleep– we have not made corresponding investment for daytime services and solutions. One simple way to reduce visible homelessness is to provide safe and welcoming places for people to go during the day.”

The report’s findings highlight the need for a one-stop shop for basic day-to-day needs, and to connect people to longer-term care, such as health, housing, social, and financial support. Also, one main concern among service providers is increasing problems with recruiting and retaining paid and volunteer staff.

According to the report, service expansion is one of the top priorities for service providers.  74% were interested in expanding the capacity of current services,  61% wanted to improve the quality of their current services, and 50% wanted to expand the range of services they offer, most notably mental health services. However, a significant threat to service expansion is local community NIMBYism (not-in-my-back-yard attitudes), with concerns over property values, increased crime, and simply not wanting clients in the neighborhood. 

“As public space continues to be privatized and closed off to open access, we are increasingly committed to creating dignified spaces where all neighbors can find respite and community. This report charts a galvanizing path forward, where Angelenos collaborate to lay out a network of Welcome Mats across the county where people’s needs can be comprehensively and joyously met,” said Stephanie Caridad, Executive Director of NoHo Home Alliance.

Organizations with tight budgets and already limited human resources had to engage in appeasement, education, and outreach. 

“Our research shows that there are several areas where services can be improved to address the region’s growing homelessness problem,” said Alina Palimaru, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at RAND. “These include initiatives to improve collaboration and coordination among the organizations providing services, along with more targeted investment to change the future prospects of people experiencing homelessness.”

These are the report’s 5 key recommendations: 

1. Expand services offered and increase capacity

2. Encourage collaboration around human resources practices

3. Encourage inter-organizational consolidation of data collection and analysis 

4. Expand complementary collaboration among organizations to share assets

5. Strengthen and expand the culture of mutual respect and dignity between clients and service providers.

Through interviews and surveys, RAND researchers gathered information from 320 respondents from organizations across LA County, 60% were representatives from non-religious nonprofit organizations, 32% were from faith-based organizations, 6% were from public agencies, and 2% were from community-based organizations.

The service providers surveyed clients from diverse racial backgrounds and ages and reported that everyday services used by their clients are food (100%), clean, dry clothing (90%), bathrooms and showers (62%), health care (57%), and phone charging (52%). Clients expressed both negative and positive experiences across all types of providers. 

“This study shows the scale, power, and impact of Angeleno’s stitching together resources through public dollars, philanthropic support, and mutual aid networks to provide dignified, life-saving supports to our neighbors experiencing unsheltered homelessness, “ said Sarah Rubinstein, Manager of Homelessness Initiatives at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. 

“As our community continues to build housing and shelter and invest in long-term systemic changes, United Way is committed to working with our system partners to expand the resources available during the daytime to keep our neighbors safer and healthier as they get on the pathway to permanent housing,” Rubinstein said.