Gathered in a conference room on the second floor of City Hall, about two dozen local volunteers and city staff huddled together earlier this week for the annual homeless count in Los Angeles County. Organized by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (a joint powers authority between the County of Los Angeles and the City of Los Angeles), this annual count is designed to gather census information about the homeless population and to react appropriately with programs and initiatives.
“The information that we collect during the homeless count is one of the most powerful tools that nonprofits and local leadership have when advocating for funding, resources, and services,” said Tracy Steinkruger, Planning Manager for the city and the lead organizer of the count for San Gabriel. “I also believe that it is critical to bring together city staff, community leaders, and residents to not only raise awareness, but to gain a better understanding of the size and scope of the homeless population both in San Gabriel and Los Angeles County.”
As part of the count, LAHSA relies on four components to gauge an accurate number: a street count, a shelter count, demographic surveys and a youth count of those who are under the age of 24. Since the first component requires individuals to physically navigate across the county, LAHSA relies on volunteers to fan across their neighborhoods to get a visual count. In San Gabriel’s case, the city is divided into ten quadrants based on LAHSA’s census tract. During training, LAHSA emphasizes the importance of accuracy in lieu of guesses and estimates. Volunteers are also instructed not to disturb or intrude on homeless encampments.
Supplied with flash lights, a map and a vehicle, local volunteers will then navigate these quadrants to conduct a visual inspection for any homeless individuals or encampments.
Joseph Chen, Building Official for the city and a participant of this week’s count, noted the importance of human rights. “On a personal level, it’s a matter of human rights and standard of living not just for the individuals but also the impacts on the surrounding residents and businesses,” Chen said.
Once the teams convene, LAHSA will use the data to calculate their annual report. Once out in the field, volunteers – organized into teams of four – are encouraged to look for signs of homelessness, such as makeshift shelters, tents, vehicles and RVs in addition to appearance, behavior and condition.