The number of homeless will return, community volunteers are needed

After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the annual Santa Monica Homeless Count will take place again on January 26 and will provide valuable information to help guide the city’s response to the homeless.

As members of the Santa Monica community set out at midnight with notepads in hand, thousands of Angelenos will do the same to create a homeless tally across the county.

The tally is mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and overseen regionally by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

At the local level, this data is used to understand the number of homeless people in the city, the type of shelter they use (car, tent, outdoors) and where they are located. This in turn results in the distribution of resources and signals to the city if more awareness is to be deployed in certain areas.

“When we saw a big increase on the beach, for example, we really spent the year (2019) working with our nonprofits doing outreach and with our homeless liaison team. of the Santa Monica Police Department to coordinate awareness and engagement in this area, reducing the number of homeless people on the beach over the next year (2020), ”said Maggie Willis, administrator of social services, community services.

The upcoming tally is especially important given the data shortage of 2021 and the general trends in increasing homelessness seen in Los Angeles during the pandemic.

The tally for 2022 will also be a little different.

Bearing in mind the precautions related to Covid-19, the training will be done virtually by video. On the evening of the count, the material will be distributed in a drive-up format.

Typically, teams of three to four people drive to their designated check-in location. This year people are therefore strongly encouraged to train their teams in advance to make sure they are comfortable sharing a car together. Individual volunteers are always welcome to participate, but will be assigned to team members and invited to drive separately.

“We know people are tired and we know it’s the middle of the night and we’ve noticed there’s a lot of nervousness about what winter might bring in terms of another flare-up or no, “Willis said. “We just want to assure people that we are going to take all possible measures to make sure that we are doing it in a safe way and in accordance with the best public health standards.”

Santa Monica has led the way in hosting its own homeless census since 2009 and has developed several strategies that are now recognized and adopted by the county as best practices.

One of them is to note the geographical location of each individual or camp or car housing an individual. This provides a useful data point beyond a simple total number as it allows local communities to better understand their homeless communities and where to direct aid.

Seeing the success of the local Santa Monica count, LAHSA is now asking other cities to register and do the same.

According to Willis, there are a number of advantages to doing local counts.

“Because it’s their community that comes out and counts… this community has a much higher confidence level in what the numbers look like, and that has been a really positive change in the way the county has counted it.” , said Willis.

It also allows communities to tailor the way they conduct their enumeration to the nuances of their local homeless community.

For example, in Santa Monica there are a lot of homeless people who pass through the city during the day but don’t necessarily live there at night. This is why the local count begins around midnight, a few hours later than the other counts, in order to more accurately capture the homeless living in Santa Monica.

The final key benefit is the way it mobilizes the community around the common problem of homelessness.

“When you spend time with your neighbors in your community to organize this event and do this work, it continues throughout the year and helps people feel connected to the problem in a very tangible way,” said Willis. . “I can’t underestimate how important it is for the community to come together. “

Willis strongly encourages all residents to volunteer for the next count and to visit www.santamonica.gov/santa-monica-homeless-count for more information and how to register.

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