The coronavirus pandemic may hinder Los Angeles County’s ability to track the number of people living on the street, as the agency responsible for a January point-in-time count seeks a federal exemption to avoid conducting what could otherwise be a superspreader event.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to hear a motion Tuesday from Supervisor Hilda Solis asking her colleagues to support the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in its request to be exempted from counting unsheltered homeless individuals in 2021.
“Moving ahead with the (point-in-time) counts would be a risky and challenging activity at best and a dangerous, superspreader event in the worst-case scenario, quickly infecting a high number of people with a very contagious and deadly disease,” Solis stated in her motion.
The request for exemption has been made to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which requires the count in odd-numbered years as a condition of federal funding.
The department has not made a move to drop the requirement nationwide, though it acknowledges on its website that sampling may replace a more comprehensive count this year and that some jurisdictions may not be able to comply.
Agencies asking for an exemption are being asked to explain what other efforts they will take to understand the needs of unsheltered homeless individuals in their communities.
The Los Angeles County count typically involves thousands of volunteers, including service providers who are already stretched too thin during the pandemic.
A LAHSA spokesman said the agency was still planning to conduct a 2021 count of all homeless individuals living in shelters, as well as a housing inventory.
Street encampments have been growing dramatically over the last few years and nearly three-quarters of the 66,346 Los Angeles County residents enumerated in last year’s count were unsheltered and living in tents, cars or other makeshift shelters.
In addition to gauging what is almost certain to be an increase in homelessness — given that people are falling into homelessness faster than the county and various cities can provide temporary or permanent housing — the annual count typically helps determine where the need for services is most concentrated or whether special programs should be designed to help the elderly or families, for example.