LA County homeless count postponed due to Omicron

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The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority announced on Friday that it is delaying its annual homeless census by one month due to risks posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

In doing so, LA County became the latest jurisdiction in California to delay its count. Several parts of the Bay Area have announcement or are also considering delaying their point counts for a month. San Diego also did this week.

This year’s tally is considered particularly significant because authorities in Los Angeles, as in most parts of the state, canceled the census of the homeless last year during the winter wave of COVID-19. As a result, officials have struggled to understand how the pandemic has influenced the size of the region’s homeless population.

About 7,000 volunteers were expected to fan out across the county to undertake the count for three days later this month. Now the task of counting tents, cars and other structures will take place from February 22 to 24.

“As we work to ensure an accurate homeless count, we cannot ignore the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases in our region,” said LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston. “Even with safety precautions such as moving training online, developing outdoor deployment sites and keeping households together, moving forward with a countdown in January puts our unhoused neighbors, our volunteers, our staff and the accuracy of the count.”

A huge undertaking, the census costs millionss of dollars and represents a moment when the public focuses on one of its thorniest challenges. Data, which helps set priorities for how money is spent, can become a political football.

There is little reliable data to gauge the effectiveness of the hundreds of millions of dollars the city and county have spent to address homelessness since the pandemic began. As a result, this year’s figures were eagerly awaited, as thousands of new housing units – mostly temporary – have opened since the last count in January 2020.

The 2020 count found that approximately 66,000 people were homeless in Los Angeles County.

“The homelessness count is an essential tool to give us a timely snapshot of homelessness. Count data is used to inform the delivery of homeless services and programs in Los Angeles,” Marston said in a written statement. “This decision is our best path to ensuring homelessness counts are accurate without jeopardizing the health and safety of homeless people, volunteers and the community.”

The pandemic has hit the homeless population hard. Last week there were 918 confirmed case of infection among the homeless, according to the LA County Public Health Department. The number of new cases per week increased significantly in December as the Omicron variant spread. There have been outbreaks in dozens of shelters across the region.

This wave has prompted activists and social service organizations to call on elected officials to pause authorization and application of a law prohibiting camping in certain places in the city.

It didn’t happen.





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