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Housing and Homelessness

After Two Years, LA Begins Counting Unhoused People Again

Tents line the sidewalk along 5th street on a sunny day in Downtown Los Angeles. In the distance is the L.A. skyline.
"There is a route that everybody takes," says James Ingram, a volunteer who will be participating in the count. "LAHSA has a different route for everybody and the encampments mapped to count."
(Ethan Ward
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Volunteers will be headed out starting Tuesday, Feb. 22, to get updated numbers on people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles as part of the 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

The count provides a point-in-time snapshot of homelessness throughout the Los Angeles Continuum of Care. Authorities say it’s the largest count of its kind in the country (to learn more about the CoC, read our explainer on what the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority does here).

Thousands of volunteers are expected to participate in this year’s count, according to LAHSA. James Ingram, a first-time volunteer and resident of Exposition Park, will be among them.

“I was living in my car,” said 37-year-old Ingram. “This was when I was attending community college, and it was one of the most humbling experiences. I wanted to do everything in my power that would help combat homelessness.”

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Measures put in place this year to protect volunteers amid the ongoing pandemic included virtual training sessions to minimize the time spent at count deployment sites, along with COVID-19 safety instructions, like requiring all volunteers to be masked and encouraging volunteers to be vaccinated.

Ingram said he formed a bubble with two fully vaccinated friends by reaching out on social media. He said they will drive around to count and not be on foot.

“One thing that surprised me was there was an app involved, and I thought we would ride around with notepads and pens and tally up people,” Ingram said. “It shows how you count individuals when you see a tent. That was impressive.”

For 2022, LAHSA partnered with Akido Labs to develop a mobile app that will upload data to a central location instead of using paper sheets. LAHSA said it will improve the quality of the count and data gathering.

Ingram said volunteers have been required to count on the evenings, between 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., so the count is as accurate as possible. Most people experiencing homelessness will be settled in for the evening by that time.

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“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,” said LAHSA’s Executive Director Heidi Marston in a statement. “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.”

LAHSA has overseen the count each year since 2016. The unsheltered count was canceled for 2021 due to the pandemic. In 2020, the last time the unsheltered count happened, there were roughly 66,000 people living on the street in tents, makeshift dwellings and vehicles across L.A. County.

The results of the 2022 count are expected to be released in late May or early June.

What questions do you have about homelessness?
Ethan Ward for a time lived in his car while attending community college. That experience informs his reporting on one of the most pressing issues in Southern California.