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Greater Los Angeles homeless count resumes after pandemic pause

After a year-long hiatus during the pandemic, thousands of volunteers will deploy to Los Angeles County this week to conduct the area’s annual homeless population count.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) canceled the event last year, then delayed it last month due to COVID-19 outbreaks brought on by the Delta and Omicron variants.

Known as the “point in time” homeless count, the survey helps Los Angeles County determine where to distribute homeless resources and allocate state and federal funds.

This year’s count, which will take place over three days beginning Tuesday, is particularly important for the county. This is the first time that volunteers will carry out the count electronically. It also coincides with an election year where homelessness and housing affordability have become pressing issues for voters, especially those in the city of LA. Millions of dollars in state and federal funding are also at stake.

LAHSA officials say the count results, which may not be released until May or June, will provide a better picture of the scale of the pandemic that has added to homelessness.

The last count conducted in 2020 indicated that 66,436 people were homeless in the county, an increase of 13% from the previous year.

Heidi Marston, executive director of LAHSA, could not be reached for comment but said in a previous statement that the annual census is an essential tool.

“Count data is used to inform the delivery of homeless services and programs in Los Angeles,” she said.

Cheri Todoroff, executive director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, said the pandemic hiatus is another reason this year’s tally is crucial.

“We missed a year,” she said in a phone interview. “We know things have changed during this time.”

Tabulating the county’s homeless population is no small feat and costs over a million dollars. The volunteers – 7,000 had signed up for the aborted January dates – will spend the first day of the count in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys, pitching tents, makeshift homes and vehicles they deem occupied. .

Volunteers do not try to determine how many people are sharing these accommodations. That job falls to a USC data team, which is conducting a demographic survey.

The homeless count resumes Wednesday in West Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles and the South Bay. And finally, volunteers criss-cross Antelope Valley, Metro Los Angeles and South Los Angeles on Thursday.

In the past, volunteers carried clipboards and filled out written forms with their boards. But this year, LAHSA contracted Akido Labs, a health data management company, to develop a phone app that volunteers can use to connect to information while maintaining a distance amid the continued threat of coronavirus. pandemic. The app was also used by USC’s data team.

Akido Labs co-founder and chief executive, Prashant Samant, said moving to digital counting that captures accurate data and real-time demographic information is an important step towards reducing homelessness.

“If we can better understand homeless people – who they are, why they are homeless, and what health problems they have – we can create more effective strategies faster,” he said.

This is not the first time the county has contracted with the company. In April 2020, the company launched a wellness app for the county. The HotSpot app allowed outreach workers to screen residents living on the streets for COVID-19 and encourage them to get tested. The app allowed data to be shared with the LA County Department of Health Services which could deploy testing teams to areas with high positive COVID test rates.

Homeless advocates hope the modernized annual tally will reduce the time it takes to receive the final results they rely on when directing funding for neighborhood programs.

“Using this new technology creates a lot of ease for the volunteers doing the counting,” Todoroff said. “And it also has real-time data that gets fed to the team working on the numbers behind the scenes so they can respond to it much faster.”

Los Angeles Times

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