Business & Economy

LA homeless census kicks off Tuesday

Eighteen-year-old Frank Taylor, right, spoke to volunteers during 2017's homeless count.
Eighteen-year-old Frank Taylor, right, spoke to volunteers during 2017's homeless count.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Los Angeles' annual homeless count, a census of who's living on the streets and in the county's shelters, kicks off Tuesday evening. This year, the results are even more anticipated than usual.

"Obviously, homelessness is a keen focus for Angelenos, Angelenos turned out in overwhelming majorities last year to vote for new resources to address homelessness," said Peter Lynn, director of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority. "We know this is going to be watched very carefully by the community."

Measure H, a 1/4-cent sales tax passed in March to provide about $355 million a year for homeless services in the county and Proposition HHH, which passed in November 2016, adds $1.2 billion in bond money to the City of L.A.'s fund for low-income housing. 

Last year's count showed a 23 percent increase in homelessness in the county, surprising local officials

“This is the year we must see progress,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the time. 

Since, Lynne said LAHSA has been busy at work rolling out Measure H-funded contracts. 

Thought there may be pressure to see change, Lynne said the agency goes into the three-day census objectively and without any presupposition of what it'll show. 

The count, traditionally, is for funding and strategy purposes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires localities to provide numbers in order to best dish out available funding to combat homelessness.

L.A. received a record amount of federal cash from HUD this year, $108 million, announced last week. About $13.5 million of that will go to new permanent supportive housing for homeless. 

But while HUD requires a count every other year, L.A. conducts it annually. 

"Because homelessness is such a significant challenge in Los Angeles and because so many people experiencing homelessness are unsheltered, we're doing it every year so that we get a really good understanding of how many people here are homeless," Lynn said.

This year, the count will expand, he said. LAHSA is trying to add another 1,800 to its current list of 6,200 volunteers to cover 2,160 census tracts in the county (about 4,000 square miles) in three nights. LAHSA will also send outreach workers into the more hard-to-reach places, like riverbeds and wooded areas. Homelessness workers are also conducting a demographic survey and youth count this week.