Santa Clarita Homeless task force preps for 2020 count

FILE PHOTO Homeless task force members receive training ahead of the 2020 homeless count on Jan. 21. Tammy Murga/ The Signal
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The Santa Clarita homeless task force is set to deploy a new game plan for the 2020 homeless count in an effort to generate a more accurate tally on the local homeless population. 

On Wednesday, the three dozen or so members of the group gathered at The Centre to discuss a two-session count and train ahead of Tuesday, Jan. 21, the scheduled point-in-time count for the region. 

The count, which the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority coordinates annually, is conducted on a single night by volunteers and offers a look into who is experiencing homelessness and where they are located. Data also calculates how much Measure H and federal funds local jurisdictions would receive for its homeless programs and services. 

Results from the 2019 PIT count determined that there were 256 homeless individuals, which increased from the 156 counted in 2018, but decreased from those in 2016 (279) and 2017 (331).

Still, members of the task force and others in the community who have worked with those experiencing homelessness have indicated that the counts are significantly lower than the actual number. 

In the Newhall School District alone, there are nearly 140 homeless students, according to District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel. And across washes and open spaces in the Santa Clarita Valley, the SCV Sheriff’s Station has identified more than 40 active homeless sites. 

“Accuracy is of utmost importance,” said Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager. “The more accurate we can be, the better we can align services, but also funding. A lot of funding that comes from Measure H is directly tied to the homeless PIT count.” 

To help reach accuracy, the task force has coordinated with LAHSA a second count at washes and open spaces during the early morning hours of Jan. 21, one of several recommendations to the task force by UCLA graduate students on how to generate an improved count methodology. 

Said locations are often missed by the PIT count due to visibility and geographic challenges during nighttime hours but can miss tallying several individuals, according to the students’ analysis.  

The morning group would consist of LAHSA representatives, sheriff’s deputies, code enforcement officers and city staff. 

“This is the first time that we’re dedicating a lot of resources to really split this into two very efficient operations,” said McKenna. “Our hope is to implement this process that we’re doing for the first time at this level and learn and grow as we go.”

Besides the addition of a morning count, the task force also implemented improved training for volunteers and multi-person teams, each with experienced team leaders, to do the counting. 

Participating members of the task force only make up part of the needed 200 volunteers for the Jan. 21 count. Residents interested in volunteering can visit theycountwillyou.org. 

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