About two dozen community volunteers and city personnel joined Los Angeles City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez (7th District) in Pacoima Tuesday evening, Jan. 24, to kick off the “critically important” 2023 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count to determine both the most current numbers and assess the current state of LA’s homeless crisis.
As Rodriguez was addressing the group of community volunteers, at the same time, Mayor Karen Bass joined the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) at LA Family Housing in North Hollywood to launch the count in that area.
The annual three-day event, also referred to as the “Unsheltered Count,” covers 4,000 square miles of LA County in late January and “really helps give us the information that we need to determine where help is needed most,” explained Rodriguez, who welcomed and lauded volunteers gathered at Pacoima City Hall in front of her local district office.
In her remarks, she noted that “it would be cost-prohibitive for any professional agency to go through the effort of collecting the data that you are all here to help get tonight.”
Currently, the 2022 Homeless Count by LAHSA revealed 41,980 unhoused people in the City of Los Angeles, up 1.7 percent from 2020. In the county, there were 69,144 unhoused people, an increase of 4.1 percent. Those figures are larger than the populations of many small cities.
For Stephanie Ramirez, a first-time Homeless Count volunteer, participating was her way of supporting her community and helping those in most need.
“Homeless people need to be counted, and volunteers are needed to help make sure [each person] is counted,” said Ramirez, who learned about the opportunity to volunteer via social media.
“I became interested in volunteering and I asked some family and friends and here we are — we have a little group going,” said a smiling Ramirez, who was accompanied by a friend and her stepfather, Sergio Acosta.
“It’s really important to get a headcount to see how bad the homeless problem really is,” said Acosta.
Rodriguez, whose district includes Pacoima, Sylmar, Mission Hills and other areas of northeastern San Fernando Valley, shared that other volunteer teams would be conducting counts that same night in Sylmar and Sunland-Tujunga, with other areas slated to be covered and counted in the following two nights.
The process of conducting the Homeless Count varies from community to community. In neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of homeless people, volunteers walk through certain areas, but in larger geographic zones with lower populations, such as Rodriguez’ CD 7, they stay in their cars driving up and down area streets. They utilize a mobile app (which has been in use for the count for the last two years) to input information.
LAHSA started the annual Homeless Count in 2016, as required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Rodriguez stressed the importance of the count and the final numbers that are utilized “to ascertain and assess where we have the higher concentrations of unhoused, the typology … whether it’s vehicle dwellings versus tent encampments.
“All of that information is critical — it informs how we allocate our resources, how we dispatch and deploy resources, and it helps give us a sense of where we’re making progress or where we’re not,” she said, adding that while progress is incremental, a myriad of challenges continues.
She referenced the progress that has been made in her district — citing a new 34-unit Project Homekey apartment complex that recently opened in Tujunga for people (some individuals, but mostly families) who’ve struggled with homelessness.
Located on Hillhaven Avenue, the building has on-site case management that also provides employment and education services.
The new complex brings the total of added units to address homelessness in her district to 500 since taking office in 2017.
“Everybody has got to do their part, and we’re going to make sure that we all collectively hold everyone accountable to do just that.”
For Marilu Martinez and Fernando Nuñez, who are friends and local residents, this was the first year they both volunteered to participate in the annual count.
Nuñez, who lives in Sylmar, has volunteered in other community events and said the councilwoman’s support for area residents — including himself and members of his own family — inspired him to answer the call for volunteers. Countywide, volunteers were being sought to help cover 8,000 shifts for this year’s count.
“If I can do anything to help out, then I will,” he said.
Martinez, a Pacoima resident, expressed similar admiration for Rodriguez, in particular her dedication to the issue of homelessness. She said she personally knows people who have experienced homelessness firsthand at various points in their lives.
“I really like what she’s trying to do for the community … to try to find housing for the homeless, which is honestly a really nice thing,” said Martinez. “I appreciate it a lot because I’ve had family members and friends that have gone through [homelessness] and I’ve seen [them struggle] … and it’s really nice for her to try to help them out.”
Though the goal of the Homeless Count is to determine specific numbers, Rodriguez emphasized that it’s about people who have become homeless due to a wide range of circumstances, including mental health and substance abuse issues, but also overwhelming medical bills, unexpected job loss, the rising cost of living, historical economic inequities and various combination of many other factors.
“There are several pathways that land people in these circumstances. I know there’s a lot of ‘compassion fatigue’ because of the exacerbating challenges that exist … but that’s why it’s critical to understand, and I’ve said this many times, that there is no level of government that is absolved from being responsible for doing something about the homeless crisis,” she said. “From the federal level, with housing subsidies and vouchers, to the state level, for making sure they [provide] more resources to construct the housing, to the county, to provide the critical mental health and substance abuse treatment beds that are required for so many.”
This year’s count could bear extra significance, given the priority that Bass has placed on addressing the crisis since taking office in December. She declared a state of emergency over homelessness as her first official act and has stressed collaboration with the county and LAHSA, a joint powers authority coordinated by both the city and county.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors quickly followed Bass’ announcement with its own state of emergency declaration, as did the neighboring city of Long Beach.
The results of this year’s count are expected in late spring or early summer.