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L.A. County counts up homeless numbers

January 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
An ambitious three-night survey of L.A. County's homeless wound up Thursday night, with thousands of volunteers taking part.The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is mandated to conduct this census every two years in order to keep its federal funding. The last survey in 2007 showed some 73,000 homeless people living in L.A. County, but organizers expect to see much larger numbers this year.

At the Orange Line Metro station in Van Nuys, a group of homeless people comes here every night to take a shuttle to the Sylmar emergency winter shelter. The group gets larger every night.

The three-night effort to count a surging subculture in Los Angeles ends Thursday night. Three-thousand volunteers are hoping to gather an accurate tally of those living on the street. The growing number of homeless people is so evident that even the long-term homeless are taking note of the increase.

"Oh yeah, it's all kind of new people around here," said homeless man Anthony Arneaux. "I don't know where they come from."

Some are new to the city, like Tiffany Sikes, who's pregnant with triplets but can't work because of chronic seizures.

"Me and my fiancé moved up here for his family -- his grandma's old -- to be closer, but the expenses are too high," said Sikes.

But by all accounts the majority of the new homeless are a byproduct of the crash in the economy.

"I am basically without a job and without a home so you can imagine it's a struggle, but I'm hopeful," said Pierre Sylles.

Sylles lost his apartment 23 days ago after losing his job and being unable to find another one in time to recover.

"Since September in 2008, we've had a tripling of our numbers in both our food pantry and our clothes closet," said Jan Meseda, Lutheran Social Services.

Meseda is director at Lutheran Social Services, where people in need turn to for food, clothing, and referrals to shelters. Meseda says not only are the numbers rising but the face of the homeless is changing too.

"They're literally taking their wife and the husband and their three kids and they're staying in their car," said Meseda.

It's a population hit twice by the slumping economy. In tough times like these, donations slow down too, and resources run thin, which is why Meseda says the three-day census couldn't come at a better time.

"The census might just wake people up and say, 'Wow, we didn't know there were that many homeless people,' and 'Where do they all go?'," said Meseda.

An official count from the census won't be ready until this summer.


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