County homeless count gets underway a month late

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Following a one-month postponement due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, the 2022 Greater Los Angeles Point-in-Time Homeless Count began Feb. 22 with volunteers spreading out to get an accurate count of the number of unhoused people in the area.

The count was scheduled to take place over three nights, starting in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys. The count was scheduled to cover West L.A., Southeast L.A. and the South Bay area Feb. 23, before fanning out to the Antelope Valley, Metro L.A. and South L.A. Feb. 24.

The effort is essential to understanding how large the region’s homelessness crisis has become. It must be conducted by Continuum of Care providers to receive federal funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This is a moral crisis of a magnitude that governments, the private sector, philanthropy can’t end in isolation,” county Supervisor Holly Mitchell said this week. “It’s going to take all of us and you being a participant and volunteering in the count is a perfect example of ways in which you can step up and help us by identifying who needs care and the kind of care they need.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, volunteers are conducting the count by driving around the area, instead of some volunteers fanning out on foot.

“I am sure it’ll feel a bit awkward to participate in the count from your car without the ability to directly offer help, but please know that your contribution to this count gives us critical data that every year informs policymakers at every level of government around policy decisions, resulting in direct services and homes for our unhoused,” Mitchell added.

Other changes this year include moving deployment sites outdoors, moving volunteer training sessions online, encouraging volunteers to minimize cross-group interactions, requiring masks and encouraging volunteers to be vaccinated.

This year’s count is the county’s first since 2020, as last year’s was canceled when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which conducts the count, determined it was not safe to gather 8,000 volunteers amid stay-at-home orders and curfews due to COVID-19.

The county received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was not required to conduct a 2021 count.

This year’s count was originally planned for Jan. 25-27, but the county’s surge in COVID cases, fueled by the Omicron variant, forced a one-month delay.

Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that the count, along with additional funding, will allow officials to track the progress of programs already funded.

“I can certainly see in encampments, where we’ve seen successful strategies of the city and county working together with our federal and state partners, where we had huge encampments and are being able to see that sort of progress. But we know we can’t get more money if we don’t count people where they are,” he said.

“While we work to ensure an accurate homeless count, we cannot ignore the surging number of positive COVID-19 cases across our region,” said Heidi Marston, executive director of the homeless authority in January when the postponement was announced.

“This decision is our best path to ensure the accuracy of the homeless count without putting the health and safety of persons experiencing homelessness, volunteers and the community at risk.”

The authority had already made design changes to this year’s count due to COVID-19, even before the Omicron variant surge forced the postponement.

The changes include moving deployment sites outdoors, moving volunteer training sessions online, encouraging volunteers to minimize cross-group interactions, requiring masks and encouraging volunteers to be vaccinated.

“The homeless count is an essential tool in giving us a point-in-time snapshot of homelessness,” Marston said. “Data from the count is used to inform the delivery of services and programs for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.”

According to the 2020 count, the county’s homeless population increased by 12.7% over the previous year, while the city of Los Angeles’ homeless population jumped by 14.2%.

In January 2019, Los Angeles County had 58,936 people experiencing homelessness, but by January 2020, the number rose to 66,433. The city of Los Angeles counted 36,165 in 2019 and 41,290 in 2020.

Results of the 2022 count are expected to be made public by the authority sometime this summer.

 

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