Mayor Garcetti (podium) extolls the importance of the upcoming homeless count in the Valley and throughout LA County.

This week San Fernando Valley residents will be seeing teams or groups of people in vehicles or on foot in their communities, searching for people without shelter, without basic necessities — perhaps without hope.

The 2019 Greater Homeless Count is underway.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services (LAHSA) and more than 8,000 volunteers began to canvas the City of San Fernando and other communities like Sylmar, Pacoima, Arleta, Panorama City —  as well as the rest of Los Angeles county — on Tuesday, Jan. 22, to try and assess the current on-the-ground census of the homeless population. It is the largest such census count in the nation, according to LAHSA officials.

The counting will conclude Jan. 24.

LAHSA volunteers and others expect to cover more than 4,000 square miles throughout 163 deployment sites over the three-day span to get as accurate a figure as possible, then use the findings to promote and develop more shelters and services through federal and county support.

Results from the count will be released in May.

“When the world feels that it has been pulled apart, Los Angeles shows what it feels like when we pull together,” LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a press conference before he, LA Councilmember Nuri Martinez (6th District) and county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined other volunteers to go into the streets and begin the count.

“Homelessness…is something that far too long we have not given the resources, and the love and the attention to. But that is also changing. I was asked if people should be frustrated by homelessness and I replied ‘you better be; because if you’re not you don’t have a heart.”

Garcetti pointed to voter-approved measure H and Proposition HHH, as well as the $402 million spending plan approved by the Board of Supervisors as providing the financial support for city agencies like LAHSA and LA Family Housing to develop permanent housing, as well crisis, bridge and interim housing among the various support and outreach services offered.

One such facility is the Fiesta Apartments in North Hollywood, a 50-unit supportive housing complex for low-income and/or chronically homeless adults that opened last year. It’s where Tuesday’s kickoff press conference was held. 

“Last year 49 people moved off the streets and into the Fiesta Apartments — 49 people who now have a place to call home,” Martinez said.

“We will send volunteers out, from Sun Valley’s Creation Center to Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, to Penny Lane in North Hills and other corners in Van Nuys and Arleta. Throughout the San Fernando Valley you will see thousands of people volunteering [to count]. A lot has been said about treating people who are homeless with compassion and respect. We should also say that letting people live on the sidewalks is neither passionate nor respectful.” 

City officials were quick to trumpet that last year’s count revealed a 4 percent decline in the county’s homeless population — a total of 53,195 — for the first time in four years.

But even with a drop in the total number, 39,826 people —  or 75 percent of those counted — did not have shelter and were living on sidewalks, vehicles and tents or other kinds of makeshift protection.

The San Fernando Valley saw a 6 percent increase, putting the region’s homeless population at 7,773 people. In December, a homeless encampment along Burbank Boulevard across from Lake Balboa Park — 1.5 miles long and in Martinez’ district — was described by Channel 4 News as being inundated with “trash, feces and rodants,” and home residents there were in an uproar.

Martinez was asked if that meant more resources would be coming to the Valley.

“For sure, I think my entire district has experienced an increase in homelessness, particularly communities like Van Nuys and Panorama City,” she said. “That will dictate where the resources are at. But I’m also interested to know where folks are coming from as well.” 

One volunteer was Van Nuys resident Priscilla Coughran, who works for the Northeast Valley Healthcare Center. Coughran said she and husband Ryan and two sons — one of them being diagnosed as autistic — became homeless three years ago despite having a full-time job.

“Our rent increased and we could no longer afford to stay in our home,” Coughran said. “We ended up in our car, bouncing around hotels when we had  money to pay for them.”

She said the family was eventually connected to LA Family Housing, which helped them find a place to live and “truly saved our lives.”

“We will never forget what we went through, and that is why we do whatever we can to give back to and support those who are experiencing the same setbacks we went through. When we learned about the homeless count, it wasn’t even a question if we would [volunteer],” she said.

“The people who are on the streets now, we are letting them know that we see them and they matter. We’ve been there, and we’re here to help them now.”

Even if the pursuit to seriously dent the homeless total still seems daunting, Garcetti reaffirmed his pledge that “we’re going to keep counting” until there’s nobody left.

“Even in the years when we can declare a ‘functional zero,’ people will fall into homelessness each year,” Garcetti said. “The goal is to end what’s out there on the streets and to have a quick resolution for people who hit the streets in the future.

“There will be trauma, a foster care system, there will be domestic violence, veterans coming home from wars. Our challenge is how quickly can we find them and house them, rather than assigning them to the streets for years. And having this baseline allows us to serve much more surgically. I feel the momentum. I get it when people say ‘okay, it’s still 94 percent, as bad as the year before.’ That’s real. But I see and feel the momentum. And I think it’s irreversible.”