Volunteers work on homeless count in San Ferndando Valley

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A homeless man holds a cup as he asks for spare change.

Thousands of volunteers turned out this week to help count the homeless population in Los Angeles. The census taken every two years is linked to federal funding for services.

Last night, KPCC’s Shirley Jahad went along with one volunteer group hitting the streets in the San Fernando Valley.

At last count, L.A. County’s homeless population totaled around 40,000 people.

Stephanie Klasky Gamer heads L.A. Family Housing. The nonprofit provides apartments and social services to homeless people.

She says the problem is less visible in the San Fernando Valley. “The valley has a different kind of hidden homelessness, but yet makes up a quarter of the homeless for the city of Los Angeles.”

From the agency headquarters on Lankershim, a couple dozen volunteers fanned out, walking and driving through designated census tracts. They spent several hours trying to get a count of homeless people – searching along railroad tracks, under viaducts, or by the L.A. River.

Volunteer Jeff Schafer says the situation is sobering. “I guess we have the reputation we are the homeless capital. Other cities have gone further reducing their homeless population. It seems we could do more here. Studies have shown for the same dollars you can provide shelter and services for homeless people versus letting them cycle through jails, shelters, emergency rooms. So we need some common sense.”

For the past few nights, volunteers have also been out from Skid Row to South L.A., San Pedro and even in Beverly Hills, working on this year’s homeless count.

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