Homeless encampment (file photo)

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority announced today that its annual homeless count will be postponed one month due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, now taking place Feb. 22-24.

The effort, known as the point-in-time count or Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, is essential to understanding how large the region’s homelessness crisis has become. It must be conducted by Continuum of Care providers to receive federal funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

During the three-day count, Los Angeles County will be divided as follows:
— the San Gabriel and San Fernando valley counts will take place on Feb. 22;
— the West L.A., Southeast L.A. and South Bay counts will take place on Feb. 23; and

— the Antelope Valley, Metro L.A. and South L.A. counts will take place on Feb. 24.  “While we work to ensure an accurate Homeless Count, we cannot ignore the surging number of positive COVID-19 cases across our region,” said LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston.

“Even with safety precautions such as moving training online, developing outdoor deployment sites and keeping households together, moving forward with a count in January places our unhoused neighbors, volunteers, staff and the accuracy of the count at risk.” LAHSA had already made design changes to this year’s count due to COVID-19, even before the Omicron variant surge postponed the survey.

The changes include moving deployment sites outdoors, moving volunteer training sessions online, encouraging volunteers to minimize cross-group interactions, requiring masks and encouraging volunteers to be vaccinated.

“The Homeless Count is an essential tool in giving us a point-in-time snapshot of homelessness. Data from the count is used to inform the delivery of services and programs for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles,” Marston added. “This decision is our best path to ensure the accuracy of the Homeless Count without putting the health and safety of persons experiencing homelessness, volunteers and the community at risk.”

This year’s count will be the first since 2020, as last year’s was canceled after LAHSA determined it was not safe to gather 8,000 volunteers, given guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and taking into account stay-at-home orders and curfews due to COVID-19.

The county received an exemption from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was not required to conduct a 2021 count. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Friday that she supported postponing the count and putting the health and safety of LAHSA’s staff, volunteers and L.A.’s unhoused population first.

“Postponing the count until we can do so safely will help ensure the accuracy of the homeless count. I look forward to joining LAHSA and hundreds of volunteers across the County in February,” Solis added.  According to the 2020 count, the county’s homeless population increased by 12.7% over the previous year, while the city of Los Angeles’ homeless population jumped by 14.2%.

In January 2019, Los Angeles County had 58,936 people experiencing homelessness, but by January 2020, the number rose to 66,433. The city of Los Angeles counted 36,165 in 2019 and 41,290 in 2020. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is seeking volunteers for the 2021 count. People can register at theycountwillyou.org.