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The LAHSA 2022 Homeless Count Was a Snafu

HOMELESS POLITICS - On January 30th, 2022, I wrote my article on the LAHSA 2022 Homeless Count: LAHSA’s 2022 Homeless Count Will Not Be Accurate.  May Pose Risks To Volunteers. (citywatchla.com)

I sent my article to numerous elected officials, but I did not receive any responses.

On February 14th (yes Valentine’s Day!) I attended the West Hills Neighborhood Council’s Homeless Committee meeting. At that meeting, I believe that one of the Co-Chairs of the Homeless Count for West Hills stated that we had about twenty-five volunteers to count West Hills even though more than sixty volunteers were desired. The two Co-Chairs of the Count would be staying at the Deployment site to hand out materials to the volunteers, and to wait for the Volunteers to return.

This is the LAHSA West Hills map based on census tracts which includes parts of Woodland Hills, Unincorporated West Hills, Unincorporated Chatsworth, and Lake View Manor. I believe that this map shows 20 discrete areas to be counted which will all be counted as “West Hills”.

My area to count included Shadow Ranch Park as shown above. This area is a known area where homeless / unsheltered people congregate both with encampments and where they have historically parked recreational vehicles.

I was told at that meeting on February 14th that there had been a major encampment there in the past few weeks, but it was no longer there. It was made clear to me by one of the Cochairs not to even drive through the park; definitely don’t get out of my car.

On Tuesday, February 15th, my husband and I both attended the LAHSA 2022 Homeless Count Training via ZOOM. During that training, we were instructed in the use of the Akido app; this is a phone application designed to locate you on a map in the app on your phone, and it allows you to indicate within that app whether at a point in time (which they should be tracking by GIS from my understanding) the exact location that I was inputting data on my phone.

At that training, the example showed a park. The training person was telling us that we were expected to get out of our cars to walk parks. I had not signed up for this!

I had told LAHSA and the Deployment Site Coordinators that I would not be going to the Deployment site. I had multiple physical maps of my area to count, and I had signed the release form (as did my husband) the day before the count, online.

Shadow Ranch Park from Google maps satellite image showing the parking lot and the back entrance onto Sale Ave and Bassett Street.

The Day Before the Count – February 22nd, 2022, was the date of the Count for SPA 2 – the San Fernando Valley.

The day before, we received three different emails with numerous documents to read which did include a link to digitally sign the Consent Form.

I had already downloaded the Akido app, but I had not set up an account for the count until early in the morning on February 22nd. I had thought from my training that there was going to be a training link to try while I was at home. I could not get this app to work so I tried Akido – they did not have a 24-hour hotline even though the Count was that evening.

I had entered into the app the names on my team, the census tract that we were driving, and our phone numbers.

The Night of the Count – February 22nd, 2022

Prior to the count, I filled out a team sheet to indicate who was in my team, and that my intention was to begin the count at 8:00 pm – the time that the counts were to begin. I emailed that document to the LAHSA Coordinator for SPA 2 as well as to the Deployment Center Co-Chairs to indicate that we were preparing to leave.

THE SNAFU

Even though the app was on my phone, it had not been made clear to me that I had to move the cursor onto the area that I was counting. Like with a Google map program that shows you where you are at all times, I ASSUMED, that this GIS based app was tracking our car.

As I went to the neighborhood north of Vanowen to count, and as I got close to Shadow Ranch Park, I would input that I saw a large recreational vehicle outside the rear gate. In front of it was a cargo van. On the street I saw one man, one small tent, and numerous piles of materials.

As we went out of Sale Avenue and we turned into Shadow Ranch Park, I only saw one vehicle. I saw one man – I believe the same man I had seen a few minutes before, moving things from one area to the other – possibly into the park for the night?

This is a Google map satellite view of the tract that I counted in West Hills. The yellow lines

Indicate alley ways that we could see on the map that we did drive. The red areas noted above indicated gated communities so that LAHSA would know for future counts that these areas are inaccessible to the public.

When I stopped my car

My husband pulled over so that I could look at the West Hills map to make sure that we did not miss anything. I discovered that we had missed an alley to the southwest indicated by the yellow line above, and so we started the car, and we drove to that location. We didn’t see any homeless there or in any of the other alleys that we had counted.

As I left that location, I started to input the data. But it had disappeared!

I reentered it, and I sent it again, not thinking that this data is going to indicate where our car is now, not where we had been in the past two hours.

The app as I began to submit the data, did what it had done the night before at home. It kept going around in a circle as if I had no internet connection.

We drove to a nearby gas station because we had been driving for more than two hours. And I was finally able to push submit data.

In retrospect, I suspect that the app collected my data as if the homeless were near the gas station rather than at the park.

I called a Deployment site Co- Chair

When I got home, I called the Deployment site Co-Chair to indicate that we had completely counted our tract, and that I had problems with the Akido app. I also spoke to a LAHSA employee who was working at the Deployment site. She told me to send that information that I had been trying to submit via the app, to the SPA 2 Coordinator as well as the Deployment Co-Chairs – which I did. What I sent to them was the map above to explain that we went down every alley that we saw, and we went down some side alleys that don’t show clearly on the map above.

Akido Labs

I emailed the Akido lab regarding my concern that I never saw my car in the app. I had several emails from an employee of Akido. He told me: “Good news! You have saved your data. Only thing is it show up against HC_TEST instead of 135102a. But not to worry, we will look at the data and the coordinates to identify the correct Census Tract in such cases. Thank you for volunteering and helping with the count!”

I sent a response to this Akido team member. He replied:

“When you submit a finish count the data disappears from the app, but is saved on our servers for the site coordinators to analyze.”

 I have a strong feeling that my data was not captured when I first started the count as I was entering the data. I will never know the answer to that question. My input of about five recreational vehicles, one van, one tent, two small areas with property, and one person will not change the overall count. Sending the map to show that I did count the total of my assigned area is much more accurate in my opinion than the app was for me.

  • Did anyone else have any problems with the Akido App?
  • How many of the volunteers actually did know that they were supposed to get out of their vehicles to walk parks and other areas?

This is the LAHSA Resources for the Homeless Count link:

This is the Homeless Count Guide that was sent to us the day before the count – Part 1

 

 

This is the Homeless Count Guide that was sent to us the day before the count – Part 2

My questions on this count and this process:

I sent an email to my elected officials and to others including all the LA City Elected Officials – our Mayor, City Council, as well as all of the Board of Supervisors.

I explained to them many of the things I have written about above. I asked them a series of questions which I asked them to submit to Executive Director Heidi Marston of LAHSA and which I also asked them to submit to the LAHSA Blue Ribbon Panel Commissioners. This is a link to the LAHSA Blue Ribbon Panel Commissioners website: https://brch.lacounty.gov/

My Questions to the Elected Officials and to the Blue Ribbon Panel:

1) This question could be asked by Congressmember Sherman. Does HUD demand that you hold this count each year in January? Since it is a point in time count, wouldn't we see more people outside after dark when it is warmer - maybe in May before Memorial Day weekend? 8:00 - to 11:00 pm we would see more homeless on the streets at that time of year?

2) Wouldn't it be better for the Homeless Count if it is done at this time of year to start closer to 6:00 pm when it is dark and go to 9:00 pm to allow the volunteers to be able to get home to rest before work the next day? It was very cold on Tuesday night in West Hills. According to the Pierce College weather station, it was about 47 degrees at 8:00 pm on Tuesday and it went down to around 45 degrees. Other areas may have been colder.

3) I would like to bring to your attention that in West Hills, the deployment center coordinators - even though they were at a church, chose to stay outside in the cold for more than four hours in some cases while the volunteers came for their materials and when they dropped off their materials.

4) Are you aware that the flashlights and vests at the Deployment site are designed because they expect you to walk these parks and other areas such as alleys?

5) Are you aware that LAHSA expected the volunteers to go to Van Nuys during the daytime to pick up the Deployment Site materials for the San Fernando Valley? Why can't these materials all be online for volunteers to print themselves?

6) Is LAHSA aware of the fact that some volunteers have jobs and that it may be difficult for volunteers to pick up the packets and also difficult to drop them off?

7) How many LAHSA employees are there? What hours do they work? What divisions are there within LAHSA? How many LAHSA employees work on these Homeless Counts?

8) What is the LAHSA annual budget? Couldn't LAHSA pay minimum wage to people who are searching for jobs that really need them to do the count for the three nights? If minimum wage is $15.00 an hour, and they are assigned to only count 3 hours, this would be $45.00 per employee.

9) Are LAHSA employees salaried, or are they asked to work both days and nights during their Homeless Counts and for other outreach purposes? Or are LAHSA employees paid overtime pay to work the night of the count if they work days?

10) How many LAHSA personnel work from home due to the pandemic? How many hours do they work? How does LAHSA track those hours?

11) Why are the Deployment site coordinators volunteers - why aren't they LAHSA personnel? Why can't the paid LAHSA personnel do the jobs of going to every deployment site in time to set up and to prepare the count materials?

12) To the Board of Supervisors - what process would it take to create more equitable SPA areas where there are LAHSA hubs throughout the County so that the LAHSA employees do not have to drive a great distance to work before the LAHSA employees who do outreach to the homeless go out into the field for the day?

12) Why is the San Fernando Valley which has roughly 1.8 million residents - with roughly 1.4 million in the City of Los Angeles, only assigned one SPA area for LAHSA, the LA County Department of Health, and the Department of Mental Health? Why isn't the Santa Clarita Valley a separate SPA and the Antelope Valley a separate SPA?

And what about the San Gabriel Valley and south of there? How far are these workers driving each day to get to work and home?

LAHSA spa map to show the area to the elected officials as I asked my questions

13) The Akido app did not work for me. I never saw my car on the map as I would see it in a Google map when I use it to drive somewhere. I called technical support in the middle of the night on Monday - Tuesday. There was no one there. Why didn't Akido have 24-hour tech support for their app so that we could all use it correctly?

14) Finally, why can't you make a request for each map of each community to be posted online so that these maps can be corrected in the future to more accurately reflect Neighborhood Council boundaries which in turn reflect LA City boundaries? And in turn, why can't the unincorporated areas be counted to more accurately reflect the LA County community data?

15) Why did three emails come out from LAHSA on Monday the 21st with almost the same information? By sending three emails, how many people have the time to read all three emails? Which email will they perceive as the most important to read?

16) There were two gated communities in West Hills. I know there are some in Woodland Hills. Hidden Hills is a gated community. Parts of Calabasas are gated.

Why aren't these gated communities marked as such on the maps so that team members who do not live in that census tract do not expect to count them?

These questions need to be asked because this "Point in time count" is required by HUD. Can the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the State of California work with our Congressional officials to find a better way to count the homeless that would be safer and more accurate?

17) Why aren't the high fire areas in the mountains and other areas like the Sepulveda Basin marked to be counted by LAHSA personnel in the daytime? Or were they on some maps? I know that the Simi Hills were not marked for the LAHSA team to count on the West Hills map.

18) Why was this summary email sent out so close to the count?

19) Why is there a disclosure about this being a confidential email? (This references the email sent to me as a volunteer for the Homeless Count).

 

In Conclusion:

I called the Homeless Count a “SNAFU” because LAHSA has employees that have been doing the count numerous years, and from email discussions, they do not seem to be willing to change anything like making the maps available online. They also think it is ok for volunteers to count parks, alleyways, commercial parking lots, and to ask volunteers to get out of the car to look behind dumpsters if you can’t see behind them from the car.

I do not find safe or acceptable to put volunteers at risk of walking in parks at night, or in some communities at night – period. I think these parks and similar areas should be counted by LAHSA personnel, and that any area that is considered a “hot spot” should be walked with security, and with the knowledge of the LAPD or the LA County Sheriff being aware that there are people walking those areas and when, and that those areas should be counted during the daytime hours.

 

(Chris Rowe is a 43-year resident of West Hills, California. She is a Public Health and Environmental Health Advocate. She was employed at Northridge Hospital, Tarzana Medical Center, and West Hills Hospital while in pursuit of her college degrees. She has a B.S. in Health Education from CSUN. Chris is a former member of the West Hills Neighborhood Council and she has served on committees of the Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council. She has a blog on the USC / Annenburg School of Health Journalism site: Christine Rowe - Member | Center for Health Journalism Chris has written for the Daily News, OURLA.ORG, RonKayeLA.org, and for CityWatch.)