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By Jorge Casuso

January 13, 2023 -- Santa Monica is seeking volunteers to participate in an annual homeless census this month that County officials say has been improved to provide a more accurate count.

The visual count will take place Wednesday January 25, between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Volunteers will gather at St. Monica Catholic Community 725 California Avenue before heading out in teams to comb every block in the 8.3-square-mile city.

"City staff will assign each team an area to survey and provide Count materials at the deployment site," City officials said, adding that volunteers can expect to walk between two and three miles.

"Teams will either drive or walk every street, alley, and park in their area to visually count people experiencing homelessness. Each team will also enter Count data using a smartphone app."

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) announced "an array of updates" on how it conducts the annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.

"For the 2023 Homeless Count, LAHSA is taking lessons learned from last year and the best practices from previous years to improve deployment sites, training, and digital tools," officials said.

The updates include hiring a demographer and two data scientists "to help optimize the data analysis process," offering simplified volunteer training both in-person and online and replacing the counting app used in 2022 with one built by a new vendor.

The new app "allows volunteers to see their data submissions in the app and deployment site leads to access a real-time dashboard," officials said.

This year's census will also use backup paper maps and tally sheets if volunteers have problems connecting to the internet while counting. Census tracts with missing data will be recounted to ensure the data is captured.

"Though not intended for use as a census of neighborhood-level geographies, the Count is vital for developing a comprehensive picture of homelessness in our region," LAHSA officials said.

The changes were made after last year's census failed to count people living in several areas known to have large homeless populations living on the streets.

The annual count -- which is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- has long been criticized for providing an inaccurate estimate of the homeless population.

Last year's COVID-delayed count -- taken by some 300 volunteers on February 23 -- found that the City's homeless population had dropped from 907 to 807 ("Santa Monica's Homeless Population Drops During COVID," May 5, 2022).

The 11 percent decrease was driven by a dramatic 35 percent drop in the number of homeless persons staying in local shelters, jails, and institutions due to COVID-19 health protocols -- from 306 to 199.

Critics of the census note that Santa Monica's homeless population is highly transient, which makes a head count taken over a four-hour period a highly unreliable gauge of the true size of the city's homeless population.

The city’s annual counts are used to help apportion federal aid as well as to determine overall needs and costs.

For more information on Santa Monica's Homeless Count click here

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