Thousands of volunteers will fan out across the city and county of Los Angeles over the next three days for a count of the homeless that will serve as a barometer of how well government efforts to curb the population are working.
This snapshot of the homeless population, expected to be released in May, helps determine how resources are distributed and is the largest homeless survey in the nation in terms of area covered, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
The volunteers will begin inspecting 2,160 census tracts Tuesday evening starting in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys. Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena conduct separate counts.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and other regional leaders are scheduled to kick off the count and speak Tuesday evening at a permanent supportive housing facility in North Hollywood.
Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the homeless authority, said people could register to participate up until the last second. According to the authority, as of Monday, 7,026 volunteers had signed up.
“The count provides us with a profile of the state of homelessness,” Waldman said. “There are parts of the homeless population that are stable in the sense that they stay in a particular place, but this count helps us see shifts.”
Volunteers will participate in an orientation, then go out and tally the number of individuals, tents or lean-tos, and occupied vehicles in the census tract they’ve been assigned.
The paper records are then returned to the housing authority and used to create statistical estimates by weighting the observations with results gleaned from a survey of homeless people. This method has changed over the years since the first count in 2005 as the number of volunteers participating in the count has grown, making it possible to reach more of the census tracts in Los Angeles County.
Homelessness declined 3% in the county and 5% in the city of Los Angeles in 2018. Still, the number of tents, vehicles and makeshift shelters increased. The homeless authority was created in the 1990s to oversee programs for the city and county relating to homelessness.
Some have criticized the homeless count for leaving out important information and offering a precise number for something that is very hard to tabulate.
Last year, the statisticians from USC who helped with the count had to revise the 2017 results after a mistake was discovered. This lowered the estimated number of homeless people and highlighted the challenge of trying to get an exact number of the people living on the streets of Los Angeles.
One local nonprofit recently examined data collected by the Homeless Services Authority in 2017 and found that the homeless population might be closer to 100,000 — far higher than the official count.
The 2018 count stated there were 53,195 homeless people in Los Angeles County, and this number influences how money is disbursed throughout the region — including the $350 million in sales-tax revenue generated annually from the Measure H homelessness tax, which was passed in 2017.
Last spring, members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked for an evaluation of whether the Homeless Services Authority was capable of managing the largesse generated by this new tax.
This came after the county's auditor-controller faulted the authority for paying its bills too slowly, being understaffed in its financial operations department and lacking proper management oversight.
This funding is divided up by area according to the number of homeless people counted.
Following are the times volunteers will begin the survey in various regions of the Southland:
Tuesday: San Fernando, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys, 8 p.m.
Wednesday: West Los Angeles, South Bay/Harbor, Eastern Los Angeles County, 8 p.m.