Each year thousands of Angelenos volunteer for the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, taking place this year from January 22 – 24th. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County decreased by 3 percent to 53,195 in 2017, according to data analyzed by USC researchers in partnership with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). USC experts explain the need for the count and the latest research on effective solutions to homelessness.
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Should I volunteer for the Homeless Count?
“People can volunteer to go out and help identify how many people are on the streets. Volunteers are providing the information that we need to continue to get the funding to support this issue. If you don’t measure it, it’s hard to know whether you’re making progress.
“Those who are visibly homeless and seen living on the streets are only one segment of the homeless population. There are also families, which tend to be moms with their kids, who end up homeless. They might be using shelters or they might be in cars or doubled up with other families. It is important to understand how we are defining homelessness.
“The results of the count show that common assumptions — that the majority of the people want or choose to be homeless, that they are homeless mostly because of drugs or that they move to Los Angeles to be homeless — are not supported by data.”
Benjamin Henwood is an associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. He is the lead of USC’s partnership with LAHSA to conduct the annual homeless count, an expert in integrative support for homeless individuals and co-author of the book, Housing First, which examines a paradigm-shifting approach to ending chronic homelessness.
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Why is there resistance to proven homelessness solutions?
“The Homeless Count helps us to bring people out of the shadows and account for them so we know better how to allocate resources for them. One of the key resources that works is providing housing. But from neighborhood to neighborhood, we see resistance to the notion of allowing persons that have experienced homelessness to live among us. I often call that resistance the last frontier in addressing homelessness.
“I think our eyes need to be open regarding the biases we harbor against poor people and persons of color.”
Suzanne Wenzel is the Richard and Ann Thor Professor in Urban Social Development and chair of the Department of Adult Mental Health and Wellness in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and a steering committee member and research partner with the Homelessness Policy Research Institute.
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