LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, a point-in-time snapshot of homelessness in Los Angeles County that helps determine the distribution of funding and services to the unhoused, began Tuesday night and will continue through Thursday.
This year's count could bear extra significance, given the priority that new Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has placed on addressing the crisis since taking office in November.
She declared a state of emergency over homelessness as her first official act and has stressed collaboration with the county and LAHSA, a joint powers authority coordinated by both the city and county. The County Board of Supervisors quickly followed Bass' announcement with its own state of emergency declaration, as did the neighboring city of Long Beach.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's count will be conducted with the help of thousands of volunteers, with the results expected by late spring or early summer. It began in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys on Tuesday, and will be followed by counts in West and East Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Thursday's count will take place in South Los Angeles, the Metro area and the Antelope Valley. Several local officials, including Bass, held a news briefing Tuesday night at LA Family Housing in North Hollywood to kick off the count.
Actor and activist Danny Trejo was among Tuesday night's volunteers. He posted a video on social media to help promote the count.
Wendy Greuel, chair of LAHSA's commission, said at a briefing on Monday that volunteers are still needed to help count. People can register at theycountwillyou.org.
"We want to make sure that we have the most accurate count," Greuel said. "Oftentimes, our funding is determined upon the count, where we know exactly what kind of services are needed, in what geographic area. So it's a really important number. We never really know what is going to happen."
The 2022 homeless count by LAHSA revealed 41,980 unhoused people in the city of Los Angeles, up 1.7% from 2020. In the county, there were 69,144 unhoused people, an increase of 4.1%.
Last year's count was followed by criticism from some officials, including members of the City Council, who pointed to issues with accessing data related to the count and inconsistencies in communication between the agency and council districts. Some council members called for a third party count of Los Angeles' unhoused population and a multi-year audit of authority's previous counts.
To that end, LAHSA announced changes for this year's count that include using a new app, and ensuring that those counting have access to paper maps and tally sheets for counts if there are issues with connecting to the internet. Agency officials said earlier this month that they also plan to hire a demographer and two data scientists for data analysis.
In November, the council voted to explore creating liaison positions for LAHSA in an effort to improve communication and collaboration.
"LAHSA continues to refine and improve our approach in the interest of a more accurate count with greater stakeholder involvement," said Stephen David Simon, interim executive director of LAHSA. "The count is an opportunity to reflect on the life-saving impact of our collective investments, the challenges we continue to tackle together, and the humanity of the homelessness crisis."
Last year's count may have been affected by the surge of the coronavirus variant Omicron, especially the youth count with many youth centers closed, LAHSA officials said. Officials collected around 1,780 fewer surveys from youth between the ages of 18 and 24, and nearly 2,000 fewer surveys from families compared to 2020. LAHSA did not conduct a count in 2021 due to the pandemic.
Officials also warned that the system was in a unique situation last year, with more one-time federal pandemic assistance programs ending. That could lead to more housing insecurity and fewer resources for rehousing systems to respond -- sparking larger tallies in the future, according to Kristina Dixon, then the acting co-executive director of LAHSA.
"Because homelessness is a lagging indicator, it is possible that future homeless counts could show significant increases," Dixon said.
One discrepancy saw the number of tents, vehicles and makeshift shelters increase by 17% from 2020, but just a 1% increase in unsheltered homelessness. Dixon explained that officials paused encampment clean-ups during the pandemic, leading to more tents on the streets. And as more people moved inside shelters, some left their tents and belongings behind in encampments.
This year's count began a day after Va Lecia Adams Kellum, president and CEO of St. Joseph's Center, was appointed by the LAHSA commission as the authority's next CEO.
LAHSA officials said this year, they will deploy make-up count teams to make sure every census tract is counted, and consider tracts that do not have data to be uncounted. Volunteer training will also be offered both in- person and online.
The count began in 2016 to provide Los Angeles County with analysis and trends of people experiencing homelessness. The count will encompass the 4,000 square miles in the county. Volunteers will work in groups of four to count the number of unsheltered individuals, tents, vehicles and makeshift shelters in their census tract.
"With the efforts being made by the city and the county, we hope we will continue to see a decline in those numbers going forward," Greuel said.
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