Santa Clarita’s homeless count increases; experts say estimate is well below actual figure

Dozens of volunteers watch the instruction video during the L.A. Homeless Count briefing held at The Centre in Santa Clarita on Tuesday night. Dan Watson/The Signal

The 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count reported Santa Clarita’s homeless population at just more than 250, but members of the local community task force say the count is significantly lower than the actual number of people living on the streets in the SCV.

The point-in-time report, prepared every year by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA, showed the count increased to 256 homeless individuals from the 156 counted last year.

The authority’s 2019 figures were lower than the number from 2016, which was 279. The figure was 331 in 2017.

Despite wavering tallies over recent years, members of the Community Task Force on Homelessness, a committee of about 30 stakeholders aiming to address the local issue, are once again questioning this year’s PIT count.

“I think (task force members) would all agree that the 2019 number is still lower than the actual number because when you look at the guidelines that LAHSA put out, it’s limiting in some degree,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth, who is also the chairman of the task force.

Leaders in education, some who are part of the task force, have voiced that the local homeless student count alone surpasses the PIT count.

“We definitely have many more than that in our district alone. School districts have more than this count,” said Catherine Kawaguchi, superintendent of the Sulphur Springs Union School District. “I know that volunteers go out and count, but we have a few families that live in a car and I think that volunteers would have a hard time counting these families. I don’t agree with that count.”

Defining who is homeless and how individuals are counted is something school districts and the task force have spent time analyzing and changing to reach individuals whom they believe the PIT tallies fail to count.

For example, the Newhall School District was able to identify 77 students since the start of the year within the district suffering from homelessness, five times the amount from previous years after widening the definition. Current figures indicate a count of more than 100 students, according to Superintendent Jeff Pelzel.

Sulphur Springs was one of many local school districts to employ a school social worker at its campuses to address an increase in “high-needs” students, which officials said homeless students fall under.

“After noticing a large increase in transient homeless student (populations),” governing board member Ken Chase said, “we felt it would be a benefit to our students to have this new position at our schools.”

The task force heard in May from five UCLA students who shared how the city can generate a more accurate count on its homeless population, with recommendations 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.  

Other cities have expressed concern to LAHSA in the past about inaccurate representations and the organization responds by further analyzing data, according to Tom Waldman, LAHSA’s director of communications.

Smyth said the goal, moving forward, is to “put what we’ve learned in 2019 into practice for 2020, and that’ll be another step in helping us get a more accurate count.”

In the last year, the city received $375,000 in Measure H funds to implement plans and programs to address homelessness, including those provided by the SCV’s primary service provider Bridge to Home.

“Bridge to Home is making major strides toward a permanent, year-round facility, but obstacles remain,” said Executive Director Michael Foley. “Finding a way to do a more accurate homeless count is paramount to knowing what services are needed.”

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