Los Angeles homeless count postponed as Omicron variant looms

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority announced Friday that the organization will postpone its 2022 Greater Los Angeles one-time homeless count to next month, citing rising COVID-19 cases and surging the omicron variant in Los Angeles County.

The event will be rescheduled to February 22-24.

LAHSA cited protecting the health and safety of its volunteers, staff and homeless people as the reason for the delay.

The homeless count will still take place over three nights in different parts of the region

  • February 22, 2022: San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys
  • February 23, 2022: West Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles and South Bay
  • February 24, 2022: Antelope Valley, Metro Los Angeles and South Los Angeles

“As we work to ensure an accurate homeless count, we cannot ignore the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases in our region,” LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston said in a statement.

“Even with safety precautions such as moving training online, developing outdoor deployment sites and keeping households together, moving forward with a countdown in January puts our unhoused neighbors, our volunteers, our staff and the accuracy of the count,” Marston said.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which requires Continuums of Care to conduct PIT counts as a means of determining federal funding to address homelessness, approved the postponement.

Before the omicron variant resulted in a surge, LAHSA made several anticipated design changes to the 2022 homeless count to limit the transmission of COVID-19, including:

  • Moving most deployment sites outdoors – at many sites, volunteers will not leave their cars to collect their counting packets.
  • Move training sessions online to minimize the time volunteers spend at deployment sites; COVID safety guidelines are included in the training.
  • Encourage all volunteers to register as a two- to three-person “safety bubble” and arrive together at deployment sites to minimize interaction between groups.
  • Require all volunteers to use masks.
  • Encourage all volunteers to get vaccinated.

LAHSA partnered with Akido Labs to develop a mobile app that uploads collected data to a central server instead of sending sheets of paper back to local sites for manual counting. Using the new app will improve data collection and quality assurance processes while limiting the amount of in-person contact volunteers have with Homeless Count staff. LAHSA will continue to improve and implement policies and practices that limit the number of in-person contacts during the homeless count.

“The homeless count is a critical tool to give us instant insight into homelessness. Count data is used to inform the delivery of homeless services and programs in Los Angeles,” Marston continued. . “This decision is our best path to ensuring homelessness counts are accurate without jeopardizing the health and safety of homeless people, volunteers and the community.”

Since 2016, the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, overseen by LAHSA, has conducted the Greater Los Angeles Homeless PIT Count annually to better understand homelessness countywide and to support applications for federal funding. HUD requires all communities to conduct a homeless count every two years.

In 2021, the main component of the homeless count, the count of unprotected streets, could not be carried out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The availability of vaccines allowed the resumption of the homeless count for 2022 with appropriate precautions,” LAHSA said.

In 2020, the last time it could be safely counted, 66,436 people were living on the streets in tents, makeshift homes and vehicles in Los Angeles County.

LAHSA continues to seek volunteers to count in February. Anyone interested can visit theycountwillyou.org for more information and to register.

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