A myriad of Southern California counties have delayed their counting of the homeless following the winter surge in COVID-19 cases.
The event—known as a point-in-time count—provides an annual snapshot of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people and is required by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the last days of January of every other year, though some communities conduct it every year for better data.
The count is conducted by volunteers and is usually done at night since people are more mobile during the daytime.
Due to the pandemic, the count of the unsheltered homeless was canceled last year in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Kern. However, they still conducted a count of the sheltered homeless, according to HUD.
Last year’s cancellation has caused officials to struggle with determining how the pandemic has affected the homeless population without accurate numbers.
Last week, Orange and Los Angeles counties announced they received approval from HUD to postpone the counts for about a month. Orange County will conduct its count on Feb. 21.
“While we work to ensure an accurate Homeless Count, we cannot ignore the surging number of positive COVID-19 cases across our region,” Heidi Marston, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) executive director, said in a statement.
According to Marston, in preparation for a count at the end of this month, LAHSA moved its volunteer training online and developed outdoor “deployment” sites to get volunteers started, but determined such would not be enough.
“Moving forward with a count in January,” Marston said, “places our unhoused neighbors, volunteers, staff, and the accuracy of the count at risk.”
Now, the homeless count will be conducted over three nights in LA County, specifically:
- Feb. 22: San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys
- Feb. 23: West Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, and the South Bay
- Feb. 24: Antelope Valley, Metro Los Angeles, and South Los Angeles
Glendale, Pasadena, and Long Beach—which are part of Los Angeles County—will conduct their own counts.
The data help to inform the policies and strategies to end homelessness at both the local and national levels.
San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties have also all moved their counts to late February.