South LA

The L.A. Homeless Count resumes after year-long postponement

The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count took place from Feb. 22 through Feb. 24, resuming after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic.

A photo of an unhoused encampment in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which is the annual tally of the region’s unhoused population, took place from Feb. 22 through Feb. 24 in the neighborhoods surrounding USC.

This point-in-time count is essential to understanding the state of houselessness in L.A. in order to provide services where they are needed most. It is the first time the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority has conducted the count since 2020 after it was canceled last year and postponed last month due to the Delta and Omicron variants.

The data will inform voters in time for the upcoming election about rising issues of houselessness and housing affordability in L.A.

“It’s important to know where the concentration of homeless people are, so that those areas can get the most funding to help the most people,” said Nick Maiorino, CEO of Alcott Center for Mental Health Services.

The count began Feb. 22 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valley areas. It continued in West L.A., Southeast L.A., and the South Bay and ended in Antelope Valley, Metro L.A. and South L.A.

LAHSA collaborated with Akido Labs, a healthcare data management firm, to create a phone app, “L.A. Homeless Count App,” to collect data while helping to minimize COVID-19 exposure.

“This year’s count is the first year that at least L.A. County has moved to electronic data collection for the street count itself,” said USC social work professor Benjamin Henwood. “[Akito Labs] developed the app and the technology used for volunteers to go out and actually conduct the count.”

A USC data team will assist with calculations for the demographic survey of the unhoused population to determine age, gender, race, veteran status and other conditions.

LAHSA conducts the count at night, when people are less likely to be mobile. They apply the term “homelessness” to anyone without a house but includes those who sleep in vehicles or tents.

“There’s so much visual homelessness when you see tents, encampments, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story at all,” said LAHSA Communications Specialist Christopher Yee. “There are lots of people who don’t want to be seen, and so the count is really about trying to get an understanding of where those people are.”

According to data collected by LAHSA in 2020, there were 7,617 unhoused people, including 4,705 who were unsheltered and 2,912 who were sheltered.

But many reports suggest homelessness has increased since 2020, exacerbated by the current housing and economic crises. Wages are also out of step with rising rents.

According to an LA County Affordable Needs report, renters in L.A. County need to earn $41.96 per hour — 2.8 times the city of Los Angeles minimum wage — to afford the average monthly asking rent of $2,182.

“Regional housing markets and lack of affordable housing is really a huge driver of this problem,” Henwood said. “That just means more people are being priced out of a basic human need for a place to live.”

Coach Ron, founder of U.S. Vets Homeless Feeding tour and LAHSA volunteer, believes there is an ambivalence on the part of the average person to participate in the annual count.

“It was very disheartening to understand that we can’t provide an accurate count for our homeless community,” Ron said. He added that only around 20 out of 150 open volunteer spots were filled by people willing to participate in the count.

Ron, who also works on Skid Row providing meals and other necessities to the unhoused community there, criticized L.A.’s lack of empathy, citing that citizens may not understand the gravity of the situation.

“It’s different when you see dead bodies,” Ron said. “And when you see that repeating constantly like it’s culture. It’s unhealthy. They’re dying.”

Ron believes that amplifying the voice of unhoused individuals – without taking ownership of their struggles – is an important way to “build empathy for the cause.”

According to LAHSA community relations coordinator Vanessa Gutierrez, canvassing missed areas will continue this week.

Results for The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count will be released some time during the summer.