Down for the COUNT: Counting homeless helps determine federal funding — podcast
by Andrew Alonzo | email@example.com
On a chilly Tuesday night, Claremonters Dirk and Nathan Silva combed through parking lots, residential areas and side streets between Auto Center Drive and Santa Fe Street while documenting the area’s unhoused population.
For 90 minutes, the father and son watched for cues indicating potential signs of homelessness, such as out of place shopping carts or cars filled with belongings, tents, and makeshift housing. That same night, 20 additional volunteers, divided into 11 groups covering 18 areas, were out gauging the area’s unhoused population during the Greater Los Angeles Point-in-Time homeless count.
The count is an annual effort overseen by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in which volunteers tally the unhoused living throughout the greater L.A. area over a three-day span. The count ultimately determines how much federal funding is allocated toward addressing homelessness, according to Claremont’s Management Analyst Tania Certa.
“Whatever our count is, that will largely determine what kind of funding we get and ultimately what programs and what resources we get,” Certa said.
On Tuesday, the areas of emphasis were the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys, including Claremont, parts of unincorporated Claremont, La Verne and Pomona.
The counting effort began at 8 p.m. when volunteers arrived at the Alexander Hughes Community Center to receive their assignments, maps, vests, flashlights and other recording materials. Before venturing off, volunteers received a heartfelt thank you for their efforts from Claremont Mayor Jed Leano in a prerecorded message as he was in a city council meeting at the time.“
As a city council, we cannot make informed decisions unless we have accurate data,” Mayor Leano said. “And the people collecting that accurate data are you. So you’re performing a huge and essential service to us and the entire city.”
The 2022 count was of particular importance, according to Certa, as she noted that it was the first time the city has hosted a count since its cancellation due to COVID-19 in 2021. Since the last count two years ago, Certa and city officials have speculated that the projected numbers are going to be “completely different.”
“We missed so much that has transpired. And because the pandemic has ultimately led to a lot of financial issues for a lot of individuals, there may be more homeless people than there ever were in the past,” Certa said. “We have a pandemic to consider, inflation to consider, rising housing costs, there are just so many factors that contributed to so many changes in just the last two years.”
According to the 2020 count, 17 unhoused individuals were reported living in the city and parts of unincorporated Claremont. That same year, 54,291 unhoused persons were recorded along Los Angeles’s Continuum of Care, which spans east from Claremont, west to the Zuma and Trancas Canyons of Malibu.
Certa was uncertain how many unhoused residents were counted by volunteers as of midnight Wednesday because LAHSA was still crunching the numbers to get an accurate reading. It may be several weeks or months before the 2022 numbers are published, she said.
Certa said the official numbers will encompass both street and shelter counts once the data is fully synthesized.
While Tuesday evening did not reveal many homeless persons out, likely due to the afternoon showers or frigid air that followed, Certa said a sector of South Claremont was where one group observed a high concentration of homeless people in one sector.
“So Indian Hill [Blvd.] would be on the west; Mills [Ave.] on the east. Below First Street, this whole area right here,” Certa indicated on a map. “I think this was five, I think is what they reported, but this did also include [an area] below the 10 [Freeway].”
Compared with previous counts, methods were quite different this year. One of the biggest changes was LAHSA’s use of the application Akido Connect, developed by Akido Labs, which helped volunteers map and keep track of their assigned areas, and any unhoused persons they counted. While some found the app very helpful and useful, others found it buggy and problematic.
The count also had a new emphasis on observing homeless persons from the safety of avehicle instead of interacting with unhoused persons on foot, likely as a result of pandemic safety precautions.
“Now we’re predominately telling the volunteers [to] stay in your vehicle, observe only,” Certa said. “It’s visual counts as opposed to you know engaging [with homeless].”
“There’s no way to really know what kind of effect it’s going to have,” Certa said. “At the end of the day, even when individuals were interacting, you’re still not going to go to certain areas. There’s always going to be something that prevents you from getting a 100% accurate count but there is a formula that LAHSA uses to take those into consideration.”
The count has gone on for over 15 years in Claremont, but 2022 was the first year that the Silvas participated, an experience Dirk said was “very rewarding.” Along their route, the Silvas, also known as team 10, noted three unhoused persons; a family unit consisting of what appeared to be parents and a child walking along San Jose Avenue near 9 p.m.
“Homelessness is a big problem in our society these days and so I think that it’s important for the local governments to get an accurate count of the homeless so that … when [local officials] are trying to create solutions for this problem that they know the size and the scope of the problem,” Dirk said.
Nathan added it was important that he, his dad and other volunteers got involved to ensure the “trickle down effect for funding” for homeless services.
“We all have to do our part to make sure the numbers are there,” Nathan said. “As long as we’re doing our part and the systems are working, that’s how it all works and you got to do your part.”
Once finalized, the 2022 homeless count data will appear on the LAHSA website, www.lahsa.org. For more information about LAHSA, contact their weekday hotline at (213) 225-6581.