Nearly 2.5 million children in the United States were homeless at some point in 2013, according to a recent report by the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH). That record number of minors without a home (about one out of every 30) is part of a nationwide surge of people living on the streets, partly due to the lingering effects of the recession experienced a few years ago.
The study, titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” based its calculations on the Department of Education’s (DOE) latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE.
Officials for NCFH — part of the private, nonprofit American Institutes for Research — say remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless due to domestic violence.
The problem is particularly severe in California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000.
A more accurate number of homelessness in America will become clearer at the end of this month when thousands of volunteers fan across Los Angeles County and the rest of the nation in the biennial homeless count.
The Los Angeles Homeless Solutions Authority (LAHSA) is looking for 6,000 volunteers to conduct the count during the nights of January 27-29.
“The 2015 Los Angeles Homeless Count is a vital opportunity to acquire info about the size and scope of the challenge we face to neighborhood residents experiencing homelessness,” said Peter Lynn, LAHSA executive director. “We use this info to far better target our homeless service resources.”
The project is mandated by the federal government and requires U.S. cities to count the number of people living on the streets every other year in late January. The biennial count, which identified 39,000 homeless males, females and young children in 2013, draws upon an army of volunteers, government and community agencies to establish the extent of homelessness across the area.
Volunteers are organized in teams led by members of the county’s homeless agency, with assistance from local law enforcement. Through the three-night street and shelter count, LAHSA will also perform a demographic survey of residents critical in planning and assigning resources for homeless applications and services. Each night, volunteers will focus on a specific area of Los Angeles county — San Gabriel Valley, downtown Los Angeles, the South Bay and the San Fernando Valley.
About 1,000 volunteers are needed to conduct the count in the San Fernando Valley alone, said Elisabeth Young, Homeless Count Regional Coordinator for LAHSA. The volunteers will search many areas, including parks and underground garages, to locate and count homeless individuals.
Included in the survey are data-gathering questions regarding age, gender, ethnicity, individual and family homelessness, duration of homelessness, and veteran status. Additional questions try and determine how individuals became homeless, the services they’ve utilized and benefits received.
Some volunteers will focus exclusively on homeless youth, Young said, because they require a separate count. Counting youth without homes requires a different methodology from counting the regular homeless, in part because their profile and circumstances tend to differ.
“They hide, they don’t go to shelters and they’re not easy to spot as homeless,” Young said.
For LAHSA’s purposes, homeless youth includes those up to the age of 24.
Many of the homeless youth are former foster care kids, Young said.
“About 40 percent of foster care youth end up homeless,” she noted.
In 2013, the number of homeless youth in Los Angeles was estimated at nearly 9,000, though many experts and shelters contend the total is much higher.
The volunteers will work out of 87 centers across the county, to target census tracts to record the quantity of homeless people, cars applied as residences and homeless encampments. They can choose their preferred deployment center when registering at TheyCountWillYou.org.
Volunteers are being asked to tally the homeless in the following regions:
- 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, in the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles.
- 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28, in West Los Angeles and the South Bay.
- 6 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, in the Antelope Valley, and 8 p.m. in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, downtown Los Angeles and South Los Angeles.