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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Winter surge in COVID delays homeless count in Los Angeles County

Los Angeles’ annual homeless count, originally scheduled for later this month, has been rescheduled to Feb. 22-24 amid the surge in COVID-19, the county’s Office of Homeless Services announced on Friday, Jan. 14.

New Los Angeles Homeless Services count dates:

  • February 22 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys;
  • Feb. 23 in West LA, Southeast LA, and South Bay; and
  • February 24 in Antelope Valley, Metro Los Angeles and South Los Angeles.

Volunteers can register at: https://www.theycountwillyou.org.

Every two years, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development requires LAHSA and other similar agencies to conduct a “point in time” count to reflect the number of homeless people on a given night.

The count is for the entire county, except for Long Beach, Pasadena, and Burbank. These cities keep their own counts and apply for funding from the federal government separately. Earlier this week, Long Beach and Pasadena had already postponed their counts. Both moved the package to Thursday, February 24th.

HUD, which uses the results of the tally to decide how much to give to LAHSA, approved the delay, officials said Friday.

Up until last year, when the tally was canceled due to the pandemic, LAHSA held an annual tally.

The county received an exemption from HUD and was not required to conduct a count for 2021 due to the pandemic. The decision came after LAHSA determined it was unsafe to gather 8,000 volunteers, given guidance from the County Health Department and taking into account stay-at-home orders and curfews at the time.

A “Tiny Home Village” that can serve as temporary housing for up to 74 homeless people is now open in a former parking lot at Echo Park at Alvarado Street and Scott Avenue on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Although scattered short-term housing developments have recently been built, including many “tiny house” villages and other shelters, officials fear the county’s homeless crisis has worsened during the pandemic. Experts say long-term housing strategies are still insufficient. Debate on this topic has dominated the debate among elected officials at the state, county and local levels, and many key election races are expected to emerge on the horizon.

Officials said they were concerned about the safety of homeless volunteers and homeless residents.

“While we are working to ensure an accurate homeless count, we cannot ignore the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases in our region,” said LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston. “Even with precautions such as moving learning online, developing outdoor deployment sites, and keeping households together, moving forward with the January count puts our homeless neighbors, volunteers, staff, and count accuracy at risk.”

This year, LAHSA made adjustments to the counting process to keep COVID-19 safe, including:

  • Creation of open areas for placement of volunteers;
  • Providing online training to reduce the time volunteers spend on site and providing COVID-19 safety instructions during this training;
  • urging volunteers to form “safety bubbles” of two or three people upon registration;
  • Requiring volunteers to wear masks; and
  • Encouraging volunteers to get vaccinated.

LAHSA will also use a mobile app to record and upload count data rather than paper sheets.

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