Local homeless data not being released due to issues with accuracy, reliability 

Dozens of volunteers grab flashlights and yellow vests at The Centre as they prepare to participate in the 2023 Greater Los Angels Homeless Count annual event in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, 012423. Dan Watson/The Signal

Homelessness in Los Angeles County rose by 9% in 2023 and rose by 70% since the L.A. County Homeless Services Authority’s count in 2015. The number of the total homeless population in Santa Clarita rose by over 30% from 2018 to 2022.  

The steady rise in countywide homelessness, evident in the release of LAHSA’s 2023 numbers last week, made headlines and elicited criticism toward local leaders who’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars into combatting it.  

However, the point-in-time count by LAHSA has little to no effect on how the city of Santa Clarita receives its funding in efforts to combat local homelessness, according to both county and city officials. But, even if it did, county officials are saying Santa Clarita’s data will not be published publicly because of its inaccuracy and unreliability.  

Santa Clarita’s point-in-time count data 

LAHSA’s count is a “point-in-time” estimate and is considered by many experts as an undercount. In several communities, such as in Santa Clarita, the count takes place on one night. This year it took place on Jan. 24.  

The count was carried out by volunteers and by Bridge to Home, a local nonprofit dedicated to combatting homelessness, which operates one of two shelters within the Santa Clarita Valley.  

For the first time, point-in-time data on the number of homeless within the SCV will not be published this year — and it’s possible it won’t be available to the public.  

City officials have said they requested the data. However, a timeline of when the data will be delivered to them has not been provided by LAHSA — who have also not answered questions from The Signal as to why the data will not be publicly made available.  

According to county officials, data experts at the University of Southern California determined that municipal data was too innacurate and unreliable to be published online or included in its report to the public on the results of the count. 

LAHSA’s presentation on the 2023 count is laden with disclaimers, including going as far as to say, “The count goes through extensive quality control in order to provide a countywide view. It is not a useful guide to neighborhood-level homelessness. Over the years, individual communities have established local counts that add detail to neighborhood-level understanding.”   

County officials said the information would be available upon request. However, who it’s available to has not been disclosed, at the time of this publication.  

Local experts have attested to the count’s innacuracy, saying that municipal point-in-time data was never accurate. 

Point-in-time counts never affected local funding for homelessness 

The way Santa Clarita receives its funding for homelessness programs is complicated, but the point-in-time count never had an effect on it.  

The point-in-time count benifits Continuums of Care designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which distrubtes federal money to “promote a community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness.”  

From a funding perspective, the point-in-time count would only benifit the county as whole, which could then distribute funds to Service Planning Areas — huge regions of the county. Santa Clarita is part of Service Planning Area 2, which also incorporates the entire San Fernando Valley. 

Funding for local homeless services, such as Bridge to Home, is allocated by the city through Measure H — a quarter-cent sales tax that created a revenue stream dedicated to addressing and preventing homelessness.   

“The point-in-time count isn’t related to how much Measure H money (L.A. County) allocates. The point-in-time count is related to how much money L.A. County, as a region, gets from the federal and state government,” said Tyler Cash, policy deputy to Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the county’s 5th District, which includes the SCV. 

“We’re really at the mercy of the Measure H allocation,” said Tracy Sullivan, community preservation manager for the city of Santa Clarita.  “We contribute a lot more to Measure H than we actually receive.”   

Santa Clarita is not a Continuum of Care city, although other cities within L.A. County are, such as Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.  

As far as if homelessness data specific to Santa Clarita will ever see the light of day, Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita, said it’s possible, but uncertain.  

“I mean, we have to get direction on that. It’s tough because of course we want to be transparent with everything, but also if it’s not accurate or doesn’t really tell the story, it’s not beneficial to put it out there,” said Lujan. “And I think that LAHSA has admitted as much with that.” 

LAHSA did release last year’s point-in-time count for the SCV with its county-wide results, but local leaders have cited issues that may give credence as to why LAHSA has deemed municipal data to be so innacurate.   

The 2022 count 

Officials at Bridge to Home say at least part of the 2022 count — the drop in sheltered homeless — is totally false, citing issues during the LAHSA count as to why the data is innacurate.  

“That number is wrong,” Chris Najarro, executive director for Bridge to Home, said of last year’s report. “We had consistently, since we entered the pandemic, and until today, we’ve have had more nights filled, at capacity, than anytime before that.”  

Bridge to Home’s capacity is 60 beds and the number of sheltered homeless persons has either been at, or exceeded that number — until this year. The LAHSA data reported 65 sheltered individuals in 2020, dropping to 28 in 2022.  

Najarro said there were errors in the numbers that were being captured through the system they used to submit their data, but they weren’t able to amend or edit any of the data, even if there was a mistake. Najarro said the data could only be edited by LAHSA, and Bridge to Home reached out several times, but no one at LAHSA ever got back to them.   

“There were errors in the numbers that were being captured through the system. I mean, anybody — the volunteers or our shelter would be able to see … that we (were) full,” said Najarro.   

The data was collected through an app on volunteers’ and workers’ smartphones, which is then vetted, analyzed and contributed to by city officials, LAHSA, and a research group at USC. This process came under scrutiny due to the innacurate data it was producing and, in response, LAHSA pledged to add extra redundancies to prevent this from happening.  

According to Bridge to Home, the hiccups experienced in 2022 did not occur this year. The hope was that it would lead to more accurate point-in-time data, but the inaccuracy of previous data was enough for researchers to advise against publishing this year’s data.  

Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth, who chairs the city’s homelessness task force, said getting accurate data has always been difficult and that 2022’s count was no different. Smyth believed this year’s count was, again, most likely an undercount.   

“The count is always just an estimate, right? It’s because it’s a point in time and I think we’ve always felt that it probably undercounts the actual numbers throughout the region,” said Smyth.  

Smyth cited things such as couch surfing, staying with friends and family, and people living in their cars who aren’t able to be counted. Hence, he believes the data from LAHSA didn’t give the full picture.  

When asked if the city is doing anything to help improve the accuracy of the data, Smyth said working with other agencies is one step toward creating a clearer picture — specifically working with local school districts and agencies such as Bridge to Home.   

“That’s a good question. I know that’s one we’ve wrestled with regularly,” said Smyth.  

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