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Homeless count: Experts tweak methodology this year, but it remains a mammoth task

Every year Los Angeles County faces the daunting task of counting its growing, ever on-the-move homeless population. While some view the count’s data as a precise science, others brand it a rough guesstimate at best.

The truth each year, despite the best efforts of a massive team of experts and volunteers, likely lies somewhere in between. And, while the methodology remains largely the same, this year the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is using a new counting application and hiring a demographer and two data scientists in an effort to improve the count’s accuracy following a missing census tract mishap in last year’s count.

The point-in-time count is coordinated by LAHSA and carried out by around 5,000 volunteers who travel the sprawling county by night over a three-day period. Their tally of tents, inhabited cars or RVs and people living outdoors is then combined with data on people living in shelters, a concurrent youth-specific count and three months of surveys by a USC team to paint a picture of Los Angeles’ unhoused population.

That data serves as a bellwether for how L.A. County is faring in its battle against homelessness, an application for county, state and federal funding and a map to help determine how resources should be deployed.

This year’s count will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 24 in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, while east and west Los Angeles will be counted on Wednesday, Jan. 25, followed by South L.A., central L.A. and the Antelope Valley on Thursday, Jan. 26.

With great consequence and political capital riding on the results, the pressure is on to get it right.

That doesn’t always happen in practice


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