More than 750 volunteers are expected to fan out Wednesday, Jan. 23, in what has become the well-oiled process of annually counting the homeless population in the South Bay.
Beginning Tuesday, Los Angeles County will spend three days tallying the number of homeless people, relying heavily on volunteers. That canvas will provide a snapshot of who and how many people are living on the streets, in shelters or in cars — and whether those numbers are going up or down. The count, the results of which are typically not released until late spring, will also help determine how much funding for homeless programs the county will receive.
On Wednesday, it’s the South Bay’s turn.
Volunteers — who register in advance at theycountwillyou.org — will show up at one of 15 designated host sites to check in and watch a short training video. Then they will collect their census tract maps, clipboards and other materials, and head out into the night.
In L.A. County, the tally is “pretty much down to a science,” said Nancy Wilcox, co-chair of the South Bay Coalition to End Homelessness.
While most volunteers will spend the evening in cars doing the head count, some will walk — often accompanied by a law enforcement officer.
“A lot of the South Bay is heavily residential so you can see everything from a car,” Wilcox said. “But there are some areas where there are retail corridors and we ask people to go out and walk” those districts.
Count includes in-depth surveys
The effort will include companion, more in-depth surveys — conducted by trained workers for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — that take a closer look at the demographic breakdowns of the homeless population.
The 2018 count found 4,138 homeless people in the South Bay planning area, a 0.9 percent increase from 2017 — and a 38 percent spike since 2015.
Other findings from 2017 to 2018 were:
- The number of tents and makeshift shelters increased by 28 percent;
- Transitional age youth (ages 18-24) was up by 38 percent; and
- The female homeless count was up by 17 percent.
The more advanced surveys, however, also found decreases from 2017 to 2018 in:
- The chronically homeless (24 percent);
- Those with developmental disorders (30 percent);
- Those with substance-use disorders (27 percent); and
- Those with serious mental illness (22 percent)
Among individual cities, meanwhile, the results were a mixed bag: Carson, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, and Torrance all saw increases in their homeless populations. But El Segundo, Gardena, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway, Lawndale, Lomita, Redondo Beach, San Pedro, and Wilmington all saw declines.
Efforts being stepped up
In the South Bay– and throughout Los Angeles County — homelessness is an emotional issue that has divided communities and brought harsh criticism from residents.
Over the past few years, various agencies have stepped up efforts to build permanent supportive housing. Los Angeles, in particular, has worked to establish temporary shelters in each of the 15 City Council Districts.
The shelters, called A Bridge Home, are geared to take in residents for several months, during which time counselors will work with them to move them into more permanent housing.
A Bridge Home shelter for about 100 people is expected to open in San Pedro sometime in the summer. Others are planned for Wilmington and Watts.
Wilcox and others have said they are encouraged with the recent funding, approved by voters in both the city and county of Los Angeles.
But, Wilcox added, “It’s going to be a long-term process.”
“The count is so important,” she added. “It really helps send the message about where homelessness is.”