LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) have unveiled an online portal for the general public, first responders and service providers to provide information on homeless persons on the street and request outreach.

The portal, dubbed LA-HOP, is funded by Measure H, the county measure approved by voters last year and expected to raise $355 million annually for 10 years for homeless programs through a sales tax increase.

The Homeless Services Authority in its 2018 count released on May 31, totaled 53,195 persons as homeless in the county on its website. Even though that figure showed a three percent decrease (from a high of 55,048 in 2017) for the first time in four years, nearly 40,000 of those counted were considered unsheltered.

In LAHSA’s Service Planning Area 2, which encompasses the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, the 2018 count totaled 7,513 persons as homeless, with 5,623 being unsheltered. 

“We are still seeing many men, women and children experiencing homelessness all across Los Angeles county,” said LAHSA spokeswoman Naomi Goldman. “One of the factors we see has to do with the the economy — rental affordability and the lack of affordable housing across the county. It’s a strong factor for people to fall into homelessness.”

According to it’s website, LAHSA officials say Los Angeles county needs over 565,000 new affordable housing units for low income renters —16,000 more than  the previous year. And since 2000, median rent in Los Angeles County has increased 32 percent while median renter household income has decreased 3 percent.

Officials said the portal takes the guesswork out of figuring out geographic boundaries by routing requests and tracking the response. An outreach coordinator in each region serves as the “air traffic controller” for all requests and deploys the most appropriate outreach team to the site, which officials said will reduce response times to those in need.

LA-HOP is designed to advance efforts to help people move from homelessness to housing by activating the general public to become part of the solution, Goldman said

“This is the first of its kind,” Goldman said. “It helps channel outreach support to people experiencing homelessness. It is a tool to make it easier and more efficient for concerned members when they see someone in need. They can then connect the homeless with outreach workers.

“If you see someone in need, you can submit a request for help and get a dispatch to the location. Not in real time, but the worker has the information and can look for them. All the work happens on the back end now. It’s about getting the right team out there.”

Due to high demand, it may take a few days for an outreach team to be deployed; coordinators will prioritize those individuals who are most vulnerable.

“With just a few taps on a cell phone, LA-HOP makes it easier to request help for people experiencing homelessness on the streets of L.A. County,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “This innovative tool will help us deploy our street outreach teams where they are most needed, so they can begin building relationships with our homeless neighbors and offer to connect them to services and housing.”

Outreach teams responding to LA-HOP requests also conduct ongoing outreach all across the County.

The portal does not replace homeless encampment reporting protocols established by the City of Los Angeles (my311), the County of Los Angeles and other jurisdictions.  

The tool can be found at la-hop.org.

The San Fernando Valley Sun contributed to this story.