Local task force decides to keep separate homeless count

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

Following a summer hiatus, the Santa Clarita homeless task force met Wednesday to discuss the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count for the first time since its release — and concluded that keeping a separate local count may be the solution to an apparent undercount of local homeless in the countywide tally.

The county’s annual count reported a 35% decrease of people in need of housing in the Santa Clarita Valley from 2019’s figures, a drop from 256 individuals to 168.

“We knew going into this it is a tool, that’s been our message for a long time,” said Jerrid McKenna, an assistant to the city manager. “It is just one data point that we use, but we do know that Bridge to Home saw over 1,000 people just last year, we know that there are hundreds of students and families identified as homeless in our school districts, and so that’s the real data that we will continue to use.”

Each year, those working with the SCV’s homeless population have witnessed the challenges the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has in defining and identifying homeless individuals, tallies that ultimately help allocate federal funding for resources, such as helping Bridge to Home’s SCV shelter operations transition from seasonal to year-round. 

“I think there’s a continual frustration in that the count really is not reflective of the status of our homeless population,” Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “As we continue to find ways to become more accurate and generate and create better data, looking at ways to improve the count is one of those options.”

In 2019, the city partnered with graduate students from UCLA, who developed recommendations and modeling to help improve the count, which Smyth hopes to continue to adopt.

“We tried to adopt some of that into our efforts this year, so I think we’ll continually work on ways to improve all of our data collection,” he added.

McKenna worked with LAHSA, pointing out problematic figures in this year’s count, such as makeshift shelters and tents, which the SCV was reported to have 2.8 and 3.2, respectively.

“We went from 41 makeshift shelters in 2016 to 2.8, and we went from 63 tents to 3.2,” he said.

During the meeting, task force members expressed their concerns with the undercount, brainstorming ways to correct the discrepancy. One of the ways they plan to do so is with a tally of their own, as LAHSA is unable to share the raw data, McKenna said.

“Something that we’re going to implement for 2021 is actually keeping our own records of what was submitted so that we know the margin of error we can decrease,” McKenna added.

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