UCLA students share how Santa Clarita can more accurately count its homeless population

UCLA student Brian Harris presents his and his colleagues findings to the task force on how Santa Clarita can develop a more accurate homeless count. Tammy Murga/ The Signal

After several months in the making, a group of students at UCLA’s School of Public Policy presented their findings on how Santa Clarita can generate a more accurate count on its homeless population.

Students presented at the task force’s May meeting multiple techniques and policy options the city can implement to improve the local count, such as switching from a single-night, car-only count to a multi-day, walking count, as well as adding more team members to a count group with designated tasks.   

Student Jenny Rees shared that their recommendations include some “you (the city) can implement immediately, some for the future and some that require advocacy to LAHSA. To maximize accuracy there are several things we recommend.”

To “maximize accuracy,” their suggestions focused heavily on training volunteers to comprehensively record and share information about vulnerable individuals, while protecting their privacy; allow for the identification and elimination of duplicate counts of a single person; and ensuring that subpopulations are captured and included in the overall count, which can be done by broadening a point-in-time survey, or PIT.

In November, five graduate students introduced to the Santa Clarita community task force on homelessness their capstone project that would develop a model of measurement the city could use.

Their findings showed that the city can apply their recommendations to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s, or LAHSA, annual point-in-time count to mold a system that works specifically for Santa Clarita.

The need for a more accurate count stems from several cities, including Santa Clarita, reporting that the data, which LAHSA collects from volunteers in local jurisdictions who conduct tallies and analyzes, has been inaccurate.

Data for the 2018 PIT count identified 161 people facing homelessness and 331 in 2017 but many within Santa Clarita have voiced concerns that those figures are actually more than double what’s been reported. The 2019 count is expected to be released sometime this summer.  

Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager, said in January when volunteers were sought for the 2019 PIT count, “We’re just a city that participates to get a consistent count. We don’t have control of (LAHSA’s) methodology, so we brought in UCLA grad students to look at the issue more locally.”

While cities have only so much control of LAHSA’s system, the students found advocacy and waivers from the authority can pave the way to personalizing Santa Clarita’s count.

From their research, students found that multiple cities, including Burbank and Riverside, have changed their count models to better serve their population and geographics.

Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth, task force chairman, applauded the students’ work along with the rest of the committee members and said they would review the findings and further discuss them at their June meeting “either to formally adopt it or see how we want to implement it into our count.”

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