Annual homeless count kicks off in Santa Clarita

FILE PHOTO From left, Alix Schwartz, 26, Gabby Vera, 27, and Hector Sherman, 30, look at a map next to Valencia Meadows Park as they participate in the annual homeless count on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

In an effort to raise awareness toward homelessness, improve community resources and improve the lives of those without a place to live, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count kicked off Tuesday night in the Santa Clarita, San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, set to take place throughout Los Angeles County over the next three days.

Over 100 volunteers signed up to help the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA, count the homeless population in the Santa Clarita Valley that, as a result of the 2017 homeless count, was set at 331.

Two deployment sites were set in the city of Santa Clarita for residents to receive the necessary supplies and information before taking to the streets to update the status of their unsheltered neighbors.

“The results of the count provide you an opportunity to understand the scope and size of homelessness,” said Jennifer Del Toro, management analyst for the city of Santa Clarita, and the deployment site coordinator. “It also is tied to federal and county funds so, it’s really important for us to get an accurate number of what’s out there.”

Volunteers at The Centre prepare to participate in the annual homeless count on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

To get those numbers, volunteers first watch a short training video and receive answers to any questions they may have. With a safety vest and flashlight in hand and sent out to an assigned area to count those living on the streets or in their car.

The annual count also acts as a demographic survey and a youth count to get more specific information.

“We also do a shelter count so we get a really comprehensive view of who is homeless on the streets, who is homeless in shelter, and then the demographic surveys are so we can get really rich information about who is in the streets,” Shannan Vergow, senior project manager of homeless strategies for LAHSA.

After LA County residents voted to approve a sales tax hike for the benefit of homeless services in 2017, known as Measure H, the county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved to allocate over $1 billion of those funds into local communities over the next three years, according to the county’s website.

“We will use the data that we collect in the homeless count to help determine what our largest populations are, what programs need to be funded, where the funding needs to go and where more shelter is needed,” said Vergow. “It’s a really important set of data that is used to help really get the money where it needs to be.”

Volunteers fill out forms at The Centre in Santa Clarita as they prepare to participate in the annual homeless count on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Volunteering for the first time since the homeless count’s inception 13 years ago, Anthony Sanders, 28, was excited at the opportunity to help members of his community.

“It’s probably a good idea to get a count (because by counting) how many homeless citizens there are, you have a better idea of what you need to do help them with rehabilitation or location placement because it’s not, you know, at least in my opinion, best for them to be living on the streets,” said Sanders.

Immediately after volunteers return with the updated numbers, the data is sent back to the data and research unit of LAHSA to be cleaned and organized for a final count. While the physical counting takes place over three days, the final count can take several months.

“We try to do it as quickly as possible but, again,” Vergow said, “making sure the data is really clean is the most important piece.”

Hector Sherman, 30, checks the bathroom at Valencia Meadows Park during the annual homeless count on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

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