EDITOR'S NOTE: Spectrum News 1 multimedia journalist Nikki Kay spoke to Union Rescue Mission CEO Andy Bales and an individual living on the street preparing to move into a shelter. Click the arrow to watch the video.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Volunteers will fan out across Metro LA, South LA and the Antelope Valley Thursday evening on the last of three nights of the delayed 2022 Greater Los Angeles Point-in-Time Homeless Count.
The count is an annual, mandated means for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to obtain an accurate count of the number of unhoused people in the county.
Tuesday night, counters canvassed the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys. Wednesday night, they fanned out in West LA, Southeast LA and the South Bay area.
The effort is essential to understanding how large the region's homelessness crisis has become. It must be conducted by Continuum of Care providers to receive federal funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"This is a moral crisis of a magnitude that governments, the private sector, philanthropy can't end in isolation. It's going to take all of us and you being a participant and volunteering in the count is a perfect example of ways in which you can step up and help us by identifying who needs care and the kind of care they need," Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Holly Mitchell said Tuesday.
This year's count is the county's first since 2020, as last year's was canceled when LAHSA determined it was not safe to gather 8,000 volunteers amid stay-at-home orders and curfews due to COVID-19. The county received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was not required to conduct a 2021 count.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, volunteers are conducting the count by driving around the area, instead of some volunteers fanning out on foot.
"I am sure it'll feel a bit awkward to participate in the count from your car without the ability to directly offer help, but please know that your contribution to this count gives us critical data that every year informs policymakers at every level of government around policy decisions, resulting in direct services and homes for our unhoused," Mitchell said.
Other changes this year include moving deployment sites outdoors, moving volunteer training sessions online, encouraging volunteers to minimize cross-group interactions, requiring masks and encouraging volunteers to be vaccinated.
Volunteers are also using an app to collect and submit information electronically for the first time, instead of using clipboards and writing down their information physically.
This year's count was originally planned for Jan. 25-27, but the county's surge in COVID cases, fueled by the omicron variant, forced a one-month postponement.
Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that the count, along with additional funding, will allow officials to track the progress of programs already funded.
"I can certainly see in encampments, where we've seen successful strategies of the city and county working together with our federal and state partners, where we had huge encampments and are being able to see that sort of progress. But we know we can't get more money if we don't count people where they are," he said.
According to the 2020 count, the county's homeless population increased by 12.7% over the previous year, while the city of Los Angeles' homeless population jumped by 14.2%.
In January 2019, Los Angeles County had 58,936 people experiencing homelessness, but by January 2020, the number rose to 66,433. The city of Los Angeles counted 36,165 in 2019 and 41,290 in 2020.
Results of the 2022 count are expected to be made public by LAHSA over the summer.