In late February, thousands of volunteers took to the streets of Los Angeles County to participate in the Homeless count 2022. This count was canceled in 2021 due to health concerns related to COVID-19, so this year’s “point in time” count serves as the first demographic measure of homeless people since the start of the pandemic.
Led by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), counting has taken place annually since 2013 as part of a national effort. The count results allow the agency to create an accurate snapshot of the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County, informing LAHSA of how services and support programs are being implemented in different parts of the country. county.
After being postponed in January due to the recent surge of the omicron variant, counting took place across the nights from February 22 to 24. Beginning with the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys on February 22 and followed by West LA, South Bay and Southeast LA, the count ended in Antelope Valley, South LA and Metro LA.
While previous years were counted using a pen and paper system, this year LAHSA has partnered with developer Akido Labs to create a dedicated counting app. The Akido Connect application centralized the various data collected from the volunteers and allowed the coordinators of the deployment sites to access information in real time. Akido has previously worked with LAHSA in the creation of their COVID-19 Response Program for the homeless population.
“After experiencing both sides, it’s definitely a better experience. As far as the app goes, everything is tracked. It’s just a lot easier,” said Jerome Blake, a resident of downtown Los Angeles who volunteered for the count several years in a row.
After a brief training video, volunteers armed with reflective vests and flashlights headed to their designated areas. Collecting primarily visual data, the volunteers recorded the number of people seen roaming next to camps and manned vehicles in their assigned driving zones.
Participants were instructed not to approach the encampments to determine the number of individuals residing inside, as further investigation will be conducted by a team from USC and LAHSA after the count.
Christopher Yee, communications specialist for LAHSA, said: “For these accommodations, we cannot get an exact number. Our volunteers are not instructed to come out and ask how many people are in each tent or vehicle. We conduct what is called a demographic survey for each area of Los Angeles. By talking to people in tents and vehicles, finding a representative sample, and asking these demographic questions, an average is generated locally.
The count results will be released in late May or early June, according to Yee. the previous count held in early 2020, which was conducted shortly before the onset of the pandemic, revealed a 12.7% increase in LA County’s homeless population, totaling 66,436 homeless people. While it is evident that the pandemic has hampered LAHSA’s efforts since 2020, the extent of the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless population is not yet fully understood.
The topic of homeless encampments, the pandemic’s most visible consequence, has become a critical issue for Los Angeles residents. A recent survey who surveyed registered voters in the county said homelessness was the most pressing concern for the upcoming municipal election in November, followed closely by housing affordability. The poll also found that many voters believed the homelessness problem was spurred by a lack of affordable housing and low wages that don’t reflect the cost of living.
“It’s an eyesore, not in the fact that ‘oh, I just don’t want to see them,'” Blake said. “But like, he’s your next human being in a country like the United States of America, in a city like LA, where you have a million dollar loft and you look down and there’s people hanging out in the street.”
On February 22, the same night the count began, the first mayoral debate took place at LMU’s Hilton Center for Business. The five candidates in attendance, U.S. Representative Karen Bass, businessman Mel Wilson, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, and Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León reflected many of the same concerns residents have about homelessness.
When asked if homelessness was the number one issue facing Los Angeles, four out of five candidates agreed. The lone holdout, Wilson, pointed to the intertwined issue of housing affordability. The results of the count will affect how funding is provided to various support services, as well as how applicants will address homelessness.
Even as LA County abandons its mask mandate and the effects of the pandemic begin to fade, low-income households who are at the highest risk of facing homelessness remain in a vulnerable state. On January 25, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to extend eviction protections until the end of 2022. As a result of these new penalties, landlords will not be able to evict tenants affected by COVID-19 for non-payment until 2023. Whether this extension provides sufficient time for tenants Low-income tenants is still in question, with continuing concerns of a potential increase in the homeless population after the end of the extension.
“This fear has been around for some time now, with these eviction moratoria expiring. There is a risk of people falling into homelessness very suddenly, sort of all of a sudden,” Yee said. “That’s why LAHSA advocated for these eviction moratoriums.”
For Los Angeles residents interested in getting involved beyond the count, a variety of volunteer opportunities exist year-round with LAHSA and affiliated nonprofit organizations. A list of service providersand upcoming community events can be found here.