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‘It was eye opening,’ says volunteer about homeless count

LA County, Long Beach and Signal Hill conducted their homeless counts this week to identify number of displaced people in region

On+the+morning+of+Thursday%2C+Jan.+24%2C+more+than+200+volunteers+patrolled+Long+Beach+and+surveyed+the+city%E2%80%99s+homeless+people+to+gather+point-in-time+census+data.+Residents+then+returned+to+the+Long+Beach+Multi-Service+Center+to+deliver+the+results+to+officials.+The+final+numbers+are+projected+to+be+released+to+the+public+sometime+in+April%2C+according+to+Shannon+Parker%2C+the+City%E2%80%99s+homeless-services+officer.+
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‘It was eye opening,’ says volunteer about homeless count

On the morning of Thursday, Jan. 24, more than 200 volunteers patrolled Long Beach and surveyed the city’s homeless people to gather point-in-time census data. Residents then returned to the Long Beach Multi-Service Center to deliver the results to officials. The final numbers are projected to be released to the public sometime in April, according to Shannon Parker, the City’s homeless-services officer.

On the morning of Thursday, Jan. 24, more than 200 volunteers patrolled Long Beach and surveyed the city’s homeless people to gather point-in-time census data. Residents then returned to the Long Beach Multi-Service Center to deliver the results to officials. The final numbers are projected to be released to the public sometime in April, according to Shannon Parker, the City’s homeless-services officer.

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

On the morning of Thursday, Jan. 24, more than 200 volunteers patrolled Long Beach and surveyed the city’s homeless people to gather point-in-time census data. Residents then returned to the Long Beach Multi-Service Center to deliver the results to officials. The final numbers are projected to be released to the public sometime in April, according to Shannon Parker, the City’s homeless-services officer.

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune

On the morning of Thursday, Jan. 24, more than 200 volunteers patrolled Long Beach and surveyed the city’s homeless people to gather point-in-time census data. Residents then returned to the Long Beach Multi-Service Center to deliver the results to officials. The final numbers are projected to be released to the public sometime in April, according to Shannon Parker, the City’s homeless-services officer.

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Long Beach resident Jade Dean is a first-time participant of this year’s homeless count, but she certainly started off on a busy foot– having volunteered in the West Covina, Signal Hill and Long Beach counts, all of which took place this week on consecutive days.

Although each city and region conducts its counts in different manners, they all have the same intent: To gather accurate data and develop an understanding of the homeless population.

Residents, such as Dean, felt empowered, and even optimistic, in not only being involved in a responsible task, but to also know that work is being done countywide to solve the crisis.

“It’s really encouraging to see a multidisciplinary approach on homelessness, because it’s never just one thing that makes people homeless,” she said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “[…] There is a need in outreach, there is a need in surveys, but there is also a need within the community to participate and say, ‘Hey, this is happening in my neighborhood, and I want to help these people. What can I do as a regular, everyday person to help get these people to the resources they need?’”

This week, Los Angeles County, Signal Hill and Long Beach conducted their homeless counts.

In Long Beach, the count began early Thursday morning– about 4:30am– with groups of residents driving to specific areas and patrolling streets on foot to locate and survey homeless folks.

Shannon Parker, the City of Long Beach’s homeless-services officer, told the Signal Tribune Jan. 24, moments after the count, that it was the most efficient iteration of the event she had been a part of.

“I’m really impressed with the level of volunteerism that people showed for this count,” she said.

Parker said this week was the third time she had participated in Long Beach’s count, but did note that she has done counts with Los Angeles in the past.

In 2017, the City had 400 volunteers participate, an overwhelming amount to organize, Parker said. In an effort to make the process smoother, the City capped the number of volunteers this year to 300.

Although 40 to 50 people dropped out of the count the day prior, roughly 250 people surveyed Long Beach’s homeless early Thursday morning.

“The thing I really like about Long Beach’s count is that it’s a really personal count in that we send teams out with those surveys,” Parker said, adding how multiple volunteers engage homeless people on the streets during the count to gather data and understand the context of their situation.

Volunteers Shelley Suy and Kathleen Heffner, who both work at LINC Housing, a local nonprofit that seeks to provide affordable housing for those in need, both agreed that the count proved to be a “humbling” experience, as it was their first time participating.

“It was eye opening,” Suy said, “because we did come across a lot of various age groups, as young as 25, as old as 60, that were out there. [They had] interesting stories. Some were just temporarily in transition. Others have been experiencing it for quite some time.”

Heffner said that a few homeless people told them that they feared sleeping at night due to safety concerns.

“This helped me to become more aware of exactly how bad it is on the street,” she said. “[…] It was pretty sad to hear their story and hear that they don’t sleep at nighttime. They are afraid, because they don’t feel that they have the safety of some place to stay. So, they walk the streets at night and then, in the morning, when the sun comes up, they find a place to sleep.”

Suy focused on the areas of Santa Fe Avenue and Wardlow Road, including parts of Willow Street. Heffner said her team worked their way from Studebaker Road to Atherton Street.

Suy noted how welcoming some homeless people were when it came to interactions with the volunteers. He described how one lady, who couldn’t speak, saw his group walking and waved them down. Eager to tell her story, the woman jot down her experiences on a piece of paper for Suy and his group to read.

“They appreciated that we took the time just to hear their story and just to acknowledge their situation,” he said. “[…] It’s great that we’re doing this to give them a voice.”

Suy said he was also alarmed to find three homeless veterans on his route.

Heffner acknowledged the cordial attitude homeless people displayed that morning.

“They weren’t angry that they didn’t have housing,” she said. “They pretty much just accepted the situation that they were in. And they were very respectful. And one gentleman actually thanked us for taking the time and the opportunity to let us make sure that he is heard, so that was the part that was pretty humbling for me.”

Long Beach resident Ryan Skinner, a first-time volunteer who counted around the Traffic Circle area, told the Signal Tribune that morning how good it felt to “actually contribute to something.”

“[The homeless people were] very lucid,” he said. “They know what they’re talking about. You know, they’re not crazy or anything like that. They were very even-tempered. Sometimes [the organizers] made it sound like the questions you were gonna have to ask might be really difficult to get through to them, but that wasn’t the case for us.”

Long Beach’s homeless-count results will be released around April, Parker said.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LASHA) administers Los Angeles County’s homeless count on an annual basis. The count, from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24, covers all of LA County, except the cities of Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.

Tom Waldman, LAHSA director of communications, said Los Angeles County typically seeks at least 8,000 volunteers from across the region to conduct its count. The process to garner public input and to organize the event begins in the early fall, around September and October.

“The count depends entirely almost on volunteers,” Waldman told the Signal Tribune in a phone interview Jan. 23. “[…] So, it’s an ambitious undertaking, as you might expect given the size of the count [and] the importance of the count.”

Volunteers are assigned census tracts minutes before they conduct the point-in-time count. Waldman said the count is primarily executed on foot, while remote areas are driven through.

According to the 2018 LA County data, there were 31,285 homeless individuals in Los Angeles. All tolled in the county, there were 52,765 people without homes.

The results are presented to the public around late May. Before then, LAHSA’s data team analyzes the data for a few months. Once the team has pored through the numbers, the group sends initial results to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who mandates the count around the country.

Work then continues, as the numbers must then be broken down into further categories– by ethnicity, age group, location, etc.

“We’re trying to move up the date as much as possible,” Waldman said of the results. “But that release usually doesn’t include the community-by-community breakdown, except for the city of Los Angeles. So, for example, for a place like Signal Hill, those results would come a few weeks later. The last couple of years, it’s been middle of July. We’re trying to move that up a little bit. So, that’s when Signal Hill would get its results.”

The Signal Hill homeless count, which took place the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 23, featured about 14 volunteers, who divided into separate teams and scouted different areas of the city by car, driven by un-uniformed Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD) officers.

About 14 Signal Hill volunteers gathered at the Signal Hill City Hall Council Chamber Wednesday, Jan. 23, to participate in the city’s homeless count. The residents split into four different teams, escorted by un-uniformed police officers, to patrol separate regions of Signal Hill in an effort to locate displaced individuals.

Unlike Los Angeles and Long Beach, Signal Hill conducts its count strictly by vehicle. The Signal Tribune participated in the city’s homeless count, grouped into team 4, which covered census areas 573401, 573402 and 573403.

Led by SHPD officer Don Moreau, team 4, which included Dean, identified 11 homeless adults over the age of 24, four vehicles and one makeshift shelter, per information shared by Colleen Doan, the City’s planning manager.

Preliminary results of the entire city could not be shared, as LAHSA must officially analyze the data and release it publicly, per its protocol, Doan wrote in an email Thursday morning.

According to LAHSA’s 2018 data, Signal Hill had 36 unsheltered homeless individuals. A full breakdown of the numbers can be found at bit.ly/2FLCcNF.

Waldman commended the resources of Measure H, a tax initiative that generates revenue for homeless services in the county, saying that it has allowed “significant progress” to decrease the homeless population in certain demographics, such as veterans and youth, in all cities of the county.

Parker said she is encouraged by the positive turnout this week at the Long Beach event.

“The count this morning was such a really good example of how the homeless-services division and the City of Long Beach have worked to make this a community event,” she said. “[…] And when people come together like this, it really makes someone like myself, who’s been doing this work for 25 years, get reinvigorated again and motivated.”

This story was a continuation of the Signal Tribune’s story in the Jan. 18 issue about the Long Beach and Signal Hill homeless issue.

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‘It was eye opening,’ says volunteer about homeless count