LA County leaders stress importance of 2020 homeless count, 'dynamic' needs of population

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count is set to take place at the end of the month, an effort designed to provide more help to those living on the streets across the region.

To do that, officials say they need about 8,000 volunteers to canvas more than 80 cities and 200 communities across the county. Heidi Marston, acting director of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, says volunteering to help conduct the count is a great way to be part of the solution.

"Homeless is dynamic and it changes day over day, year over year, so doing this count helps us see who are the people that are experiencing homelessness, how have their needs changed year over year so we can make sure we're aligning our resources to best address those needs," Marston said.

The count will take place countywide starting Jan. 21 through Jan. 23. Volunteers can sign up to canvas areas in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, West L.A., South L.A. and more.

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The federal government requires a count every other year but Los Angeles conducts its count annually.

Last year's count found that nearly 59,000 people were experiencing homelessness countywide, an increase of 12% from 2018.

Marston would not speculate on what this year's results could be. The numbers are not released until spring, after they have been analyzed.

LAHSA, has a $400 million annual budget including city and county funding. Critics say new housing has been too slow to come online.

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"We're equally as frustrated with the crisis on our street," Marston said.

But, she added, L.A. needs to build permanent housing as much as shelter beds, which are a temporary solution.

Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission disagrees with how the money is being spent.

"Some folks are very dogmatic that everybody deserves a $500,000 unit with a granite counter top and until we do that, then any money wasted on shelters is wrong," he said.

Bales added that $67 million being set aside for delayed housing plans could be spent on shelters with sprung floors and a long-lasting cover, referencing the mission's recently opened bridge shelter for than 100 women. Instead, he argued, that money could build 88 bridge housing projects.

"Imagine what we could do with 88 sprung shelters; 24/7 bridge housing. We could get 20,000 people off the streets and perhaps by the end of the year, 40,000."
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