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Housing and Homelessness

Are Unhoused Latinos Being Left Out Of The Picture? A New Effort To Make Sure The Count Is Accurate

A print-out that says HOMELESS COUNT with a large arrow pointing toward a door where a person is standing, back to the camera, is taped to a window.
Volunteers arrive for the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count in this file photo from Feb. 24, 2022 in Los Angeles.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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Getting an accurate count of unhoused people in Los Angeles County is tricky, as experts caution many communities — among them, Latinos — may be undercounted.

Now a team of researchers funded by UCLA is developing a new methodology to better reflect Latino populations experiencing homelessness.

What's A Point-In-Time Count?
  • That's when people within a community who are experiencing homelessness are counted on a single night.

“Part of the project is to explore different ways that we can measure homelessness, alternative ways to the point-in-time count that would be better at capturing the experiences of the Latino community,” said Melissa Chinchilla, one of the research scientists working on the team.

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At issue, said Chinchilla, is how the question is asked. She said the Latino population experiencing homelessness is likely to be underestimated in traditional counts. That's because many may not identify themselves as experiencing homelessness, or they live with friends and family sharing overcrowded housing (a situation referred to as “doubling up”).

When Latinos double up, they don’t get counted, Chinchilla said.

How The Annual Count Works

This year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority resumed its annual homeless count after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For three nights starting on Feb. 22, volunteers, service workers, and formerly unhoused people went out into the community to physically count the homeless population. The results are expected in early September.

The current methodology centers on counting people who LAHSA calls “literally homeless” on the nights of the census. That designation includes those who sleep in a homeless shelter or temporary living quarters like a sidewalk encampment or a car. This methodology is called a point-in-time count.

Who Doesn't Get Counted

The drawback of counting those who are “literally unhoused” is that people who are living in a motel or sleeping on the couch of friends and families are not counted.

“Some of what we know from previous work is that oftentimes with the Latino community they pull on their social network,” said Chinchilla. “Like family and friends, and also informal supports that are not captured in the homeless service system — for example, churches.”

Chinchilla and her team will also focus their project on the different housing resources available and if those resources are accessible to the Latino community. Through their research, Chinchilla observed that Latinos experiencing homelessness will go through community members to access resources.

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Next Steps

Chinchilla said the teams wants to know what is stopping Latinos from going directly to city-provided services.

“Why aren’t people accessing these resources? Is it because there’s a language barrier? Is there a cultural barrier? Do they not identify themselves as experiencing homelessness? Is there a different way that our community thinks about housing?” said Chinchilla.

Chinchilla and her team received funding from the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institution to move forward with their project. The team's findings will be developed into public policy briefs to inform local and state policymakers on how to better serve the Latino communities.

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