Counting L.A.’s homeless: USC experts explain why

January 22, 2019

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.

Contact: Jenesse Miller, (213) 810-8554 or

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.

Contact: (213) 821‑6449 or

Why is there resistance to proven homelessness solutions?

Suzanne Wenzel of the USC School of Social Work is an expert in homelessness, substance abuse treatment and post-traumatic stress disorder in women.“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.

Contact: (213) 740-0819 or

What research is USC conducting on homelessness?

“The Homelessness Policy Research Institute is a county-wide effort that includes over 30 scholars and policymakers coming together to convene and collaborate on research to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. Our research includes analysis on best practices around the country to help inform next steps, as well as rapid data analysis using the Homeless Count on demographic changes we observe.

“Our research briefs focus on specific policy issues; for example, how many people are living in their cars, and where are they parking? Approximately 35 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Los Angeles region utilize their vehicle – which can include a car, van or RV camper – as their primary mode of shelter. We’ve been able to provide an overview of what safe parking programs around the country look like.”

Gary Painter is the director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute, a partnership between the USC Price Center for Social Innovation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles Home for Good Initiative.

Contact: (213) 740-8754 or

How are public health issues being addressed?

“There have been some encouraging recent developments in addressing public health issues in homeless encampments, including actions by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to accelerate support for public health interventions at the camps themselves, and a proposal to expand medical treatment for people using opioids.

“Unfortunately, the continued and troubling lack of affordable housing is contributing to this crisis.”

Michael R. Cousineau is professor of clinical preventative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and an expert in the health needs of vulnerable populations including homeless people.

Contact: (323) 442-8249 or

Photo: Denise Taylor, bottom right, is interviewed by USC Alumni Lynette Jenkins, right, during a homeless count demographic survey of Los Angele’s homeless being done by the University of Southern California, Tuesday, February 28, 2017. (Photo / Gus Ruelas)