Increasingly, the debate around reducing street homelessness around Los Angeles is focused on what to build. Should the city continue to direct most resources toward creating permanent housing with services, which has proven to be a costly and slow process? Or should it try to rapidly add more group shelters and shared tiny homes—which, under a new legal settlement, would allow the city to enforce camping bans in certain areas?

There are compelling arguments for both approaches. Over 100 people are dying on the streets each month in Los Angeles County, motivating a focus on immediate access to shelter. At the same time, shelter beds and other temporary accommodations are not long-term solutions—and, perhaps more importantly, our research suggests that few people will voluntarily leave the streets for them.

Last year we began counting individuals living on the street in three neighborhoods with high numbers of homeless encampments: Hollywood, Skid Row, and Venice. Over the first four months of our study, the number of unhoused people in these neighborhoods grew by an average of about 17 percent.

We also surveyed more than 200 people experiencing homelessness in the same neighborhoods. About 90 percent of our respondents expressed interest in being offered housing, but only 30 percent said they would move into a group shelter. By contrast, more than 80 percent would accept one of multiple types of private accommodations, including a hotel or motel room or permanent supportive housing.

These findings echo what we learned from our earlier longitudinal study of veterans experiencing homelessness around West Los Angeles. The housing on offer isn't perceived as meeting basic human needs for autonomy, privacy, safety, and security. If shelters or transitional housing require sharing rooms, have curfews and other rules, or reduce people's sense of self-determination—our research suggests these won't be an effective approach to reducing street homelessness.

Read the full article about group shelters by Sarah B. Hunter and Jason M. Ward at RAND Corporation.