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So, Exactly WHY are You Counting the Homeless?

REPORT FROM SKID ROW-As a homegrown Angeleno, I’m proud to see my fellow Angelenos have the conscience and desire to make sacrifices to help those of us who are down on their luck. Unfortunately, I can’t understand why these same Angelenos “go unconscious” when it comes to discussing the “Homeless Count.” 

Exactly why do you count homeless people during the Homeless Count? The common answer seems to be, “Because I want to help the less fortunate.” 

In hopes of furthering the conversation, we need to probe the topic a little deeper. 

Let’s start by establishing that if you volunteer to count the homeless, you’ll find that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and all of its employees and non-profit community partners will be getting paid to stand around and watch you do their jobs for them. 

Think about it. What would they do if nobody volunteered? You guessed it, they’d have to do it themselves. 

As a Skid Row resident and community activist, I have to question why LAHSA counts homeless folks in the middle of the winter instead of in the middle of the summer when homeless persons and families step out from their nooks and crannies and become more visible – something that automatically helps create a more accurate homeless count. 

You may remember a few years back how ridiculous Home for Good’s questionable marketing scheme called “Walk with Kobe Bryant and End Homelessness” sounded. Yet every year, tens of thousands of folks truly believe they’re doing the right thing. We in Skid Row sadly shake our heads as we watch folks “go unconscious,” thinking they can somehow “walk” and another person’s homelessness will magically go away – and they don’t even “walk” in Skid Row or in places where homeless people live! 

We contacted Kobe Bryant and told him not to taint his legacy by taking part in this fallacy. He listened and no longer participates. 

We’ve also been extremely outspoken about the numerous flaws in the Homeless Count. Why is it that this used to happen only every other year, something that strongly suggests that there’s no sense of urgency whatsoever? This year they will begin counting the homeless every year. We are making a difference in how “they” operate. 

Another flaw in this system is that the Homeless Count has occurred during the last week of January, but the actual numbers usually weren’t released until October. We complained about this and in 2015 they released “early indicator stats” much sooner. Think about it: the homeless you count who are living in tents on the sidewalks, in encampments under freeway overpasses or in abandoned houses or other deserted areas in January, probably won’t be there in October of that very same year. So what’s the good in counting them? 

It’s just plain lazy for Angelenos to brag about how they “helped” count the homeless -- as if this makes a difference. But exactly how does this make a difference? And what happens after you turn in your clipboard? Right, you go home -- ironic indeed! Yet the homeless remain homeless and once again you’re “allowed” to clear your conscience. 

LAHSA staff gets paid to create this “escape from obligation” for you. It’s a win-win for everybody except for the homeless folks continuing their struggle to survive. Wow. 

The Homeless Count has taken place every other year since 2005, which means there have been six counts total to date. 

Last year’s count concluded that there has been a 12% increase in all homelessness in LA County since 2013. Yet, how many new low-income housing units have been built in the interim? And how many homeless folks have been “helped” out of homelessness since 2013? Exactly. 

Will the Homeless Count show an increase or decrease this year? Let’s look at it this way: If there aren’t any new low-income housing units coming online, how could the “count” show a decrease? 

The only way this year’s Homeless Count could show a significant decrease in numbers is if the non-profit “community partners” evict recently housed folks in big numbers to make room for the current homeless folks. And since evictions are not counted, we have no way of getting to the bottom of this. Just know that this concept creates an ongoing cycle which benefits everyone who collects paychecks connected to homelessness. 

If you’re counting and not asking these probing questions, you will end up being part of the problem. You need to ask yourselves exactly why you count the homeless? And who are you helping?

 

(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)