Volunteers take to the streets for annual homeless count

Los Angeles Homeless Services Commissioner Larry Adamson, left, welcomes the dozens of volunteers who registered for a homeless count in Santa Clarita in 2017. Dan Watson/The Signal
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On Tuesday night, thousands of volunteers throughout Los Angeles covered the streets, underpasses, riverbeds and washes of the county to count the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in the area.

In Santa Clarita, community volunteers gathered at the city of Santa Clarita’s The Centre (located at the city’s sports complex) and Real Life Church to take part in the Santa Clarita Valley’s portion of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

“The count is done to assess how many homeless are in our community and see if we can gather any information as well as demographics,” said Carrie Lujan, communications manager for the city of Santa Clarita.

Organized by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the annual count includes a point-in-time visual tally in an effort to collect comprehensive data about the county’s homeless.

Several weeks later, LAHSA will complete a demographic count using surveys of those who are experiencing homelessness. It will be some time before the local numbers become available.

“What the count does is give us a sense right now of homeless in terms of who the people experiencing homelessness are and where they are,” said Tom Waldman, communications director for LAHSA.

Once collected, the tallies are then submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the purpose of addressing housing needs and receiving federal aid. It will be some time before the local numbers become available.

“The numbers that come in help us measure our progress toward ending homelessness and help the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development determine the amount of funds allocated toward ending homeless,” Lujan said.

Before embarking on their count, Santa Clarita Valley volunteers completed an orientation with information and training from officials with LAHSA and the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Volunteers then took off on foot or in cars to count as they covered specific blocks of the city in groups of two to four in up to four-hour shifts.  They were accompanied by city and county workers as well.

“I’ve always felt like it’s my right as being a member of the city to help keep it clean and support the people who live here. It’s a great chance to give back to the community,” 15-year-old Simon Drap said.

The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count is the largest census of its kind in the nation with more than 7,000 volunteers working for three days at 179 sites throughout the county.

“This looks to be highest number of volunteers ever to be in the count,” Waldman said.

Last year, the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness was at 47,000 in Los Angeles County.

With the annual count and the Homeless Initiative, approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last year, the county hopes to adequately assess the county’s state of homeless to distribute community resources and increase community engagement.

“The county has really made a commitment with its strategies and increase in funding,” Waldman said.  “This will continue the county’s demonstrated commitment of working to alleviate the issue of homelessness in the community.”

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