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Opinion: Real Data, Real Solutions: Moving Beyond Building to Address Homelessness

Once again, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) is conducting its yearly Point-in-Time (PIT) count.

Required by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it’s a “count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January.” Our count now happens over three nights, but it remains a single, annual count.

Since 2005, these counts have been used to guide policy, allocate resources, and generally shape LA’s response to homelessness, which is costing us over $1 billion annually

“Why won’t our elected officials stop acting like we can house all these people? A sixth grader with a calculator can tell you it’s impossible.” 

Last year’s count showed a total of 75,518 unhoused people, the nation’s second highest homeless population. A friend asked me, “Why won’t our elected officials stop acting like we can house all these people? A sixth grader with a calculator can tell you it’s impossible.” 

Of course he’s right. In 2023, the median cost for a single unit of affordable housing was $600,000. At that price, we’d need $45,310,800,000 to build enough housing just for last year’s unhoused people at last year’s cost. It can’t be done.

Continuing to build a trickle of overpriced housing for a torrent of unhoused citizens is a shameful waste of resources that could be used more effectively. Which brings us back to the PIT count. We can’t make better policy decisions without more transparent, accurate, and useful data collection methods.

There’s no point in remaining committed to a permanent-supportive-housing-first policy if we can’t sustain it.  Here’s an attempt to explain one aspect that’s vital to correcting our course. 

  1. Data from nearly two decades of PIT counts have led to homelessness solutions that don’t work. 

  2. Methodologies exist for collecting better data and making targeted policy decisions that do work. 

  3. It’s time to hold our city and county leadership accountable with our voting power.

Data from nearly two decades of PIT counts have led to homelessness solutions that don’t work. 


A one-size, housing first solution does not fit all homeless people. We have to learn precisely who is homeless and what they need. For example, how many individuals require mental health treatment? How many need substance abuse programs? How many have children to care for? That’s the only way we can target our $1 billion annual homeless spend accurately enough to help the real people suffering on our streets. 

To help people, we need to know them. The PIT counts do not allow for that. No less an authority than Peter Mangano,the highly regarded director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness from 2002 to 2009, called the PIT count “one of the most unscientific activities that determines policies ever derived.” 


PIT count numbers aren’t just inadequate, they’re inaccurate. There’s a mountain of reporting that questions the accuracy of PIT counts. A recent critique of LAHSA’s 2022 PIT count was titled, Los Angeles homeless count raises doubts about accuracy. Is it time for a new way? Written by Doug Smith, the article includes enlightening links to additional reporting. 

Business owners continue to cite homelessness as a significant problem. Credit: SMDP Photo

The LA Times published Smith’s report on September 24, 2022 – nearly a year and a half ago. It describes former City Council President Nury Martinez as being so concerned about reported PIT count inaccuracies that she “introduced two motions asking for an audit of the [2022] count… and those of prior years and an evaluation of whether to hand future counts to a third party.” 


It’s now 2024. Martinez is long gone. The public has no update on any audit. And the LAHSA PIT count is proceeding per usual – going into year 19 of ever deepening failure.


Editor's Note: This is the first article in a three-part series exploring the pressing issue of homelessness - examining its community impact and the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all approach. The Current team has reached out to Kevin de León, co-author of the point-in-time audit, to request all documents related to the motion. Our goal with this series is to offer a comprehensive understanding of this critical topic.

Connie Brooks is a Venice resident and former social worker who’s spent most of her career solving problems as a small business owner. She believes in people’s power to change the world.


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