Volunteers gather for homeless count

A Bridge to Home staff member, left, hands a 2019 tally sheet to Dr. Joan Aschoff during the L.A. Homeless Count briefing held at The Centre in Santa Clarita on Tuesday night. Dan Watson/The Signal
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By Crystal Duan

Signal Staff Writer

As part of the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, a room full of 70 Santa Clarita Valley volunteers gathered at The Centre on Tuesday night to help out.

Scott Seamands, a Valencia resident, was one of many who were there to drive around certain portions of the city, trying to spot homeless individuals in the hopes of getting an accurate count and gauge the extent of the issue in Santa Clarita.

The 2019 homeless count, which is an unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered individuals facing homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley, is put on annually by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an independent agency that provides the L.A. County Board of Supervisors with data on homelessness. City-by-city results are expected to be released after May, according to LAHSA officials.

Volunteers across 85 cities and unincorporated areas of L.A. County signed up for the evening work to tally up individuals throughout their neighborhoods, a feat Seamands participated in eagerly.

“I want to offer up whatever services I can to help out my city,” he said. “We need to do what we can to go to the areas people are living outdoors to let organizations know where to help.”

Seamands had first heard of the count through his sister, who works with homelessness in the San Fernando Valley. He’s been doing this for four years straight and had seen many homeless people around the Westfield Valencia Town Center in previous years.

Tuesday night, as he cruised with three other people around neighborhoods located adjacent to Decoro Drive, he saw less.

Dakota Broussard, who was in the driver’s seat, had come up from Reseda to help. Despite being skeptical of the count’s accuracy, he said it was still important to help the town, so much that he’d driven back after seeing the count advertised on the city’s official Twitter account.

The reason behind the city’s push for help was the desire for an accurate count to determine the amount of federal funds that would be allocated to local homeless programs.

Previous counts had tallied no more than 330 people experiencing homelessness in the SCV, but the city’s community task force on homelessness previously said there were likely more homeless individuals than that.

Mike Foley, executive director of the nonprofit Bridge to Home, which operates the local emergency winter shelter, said there were complexities in trying to count what was often a dynamic and changing homeless population.

Nonetheless, the funding attached to the count from the county was still important data that could be useful, he said.

“Other methods can be used to supplement this count over time to provide more resources,” he said. “I’ve been in Santa Clarita for four months and worked on countless homeless counts, and it’s exciting to see volunteers engaged and eager to help.”

One way the homeless task force is already looking into different count avenues is by bringing in UCLA graduate students, whose capstone project will develop a model of measurement Santa Clarita could use.

“It is extremely important that our city receive(s) the resources necessary to help our homeless population,” Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean said in a prepared statement.

Since 2005, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has organized a point-in-time count, which is an unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered individuals facing homelessness conducted from Jan. 22 through 24.

Count results — used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the county — determine the amount of funds that would be allocated to local homeless programs, such as the Bridge to Home shelter.

Out of the 45,043 homeless individuals and families counted in the county, 161 were identified living in Santa Clarita for the 2018 count and 331 in 2017.

Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the Santa Clarita city manager, said the count was just a point in time but nonetheless provided a snapshot.

“This is one tool, but we are just an opt-in city participating to get a consistent count,” he said. “We also look to local nonprofits and service providers to provide us with resources and counts to get an accurate idea of what homelessness is here.”

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