After being delayed by COVID, Southern California officials are gearing up for a full and robust homeless count. In Los Angeles County, the LA Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) is leading the effort from February 22-34 with support from local cities, including Duarte. Victoria Rocha, a spokesperson for the city of Duarte, talks about the effort.
It’s been two years since the last homeless count in LA County. Did that have an effect on how or where Duarte deployed homeless services?
Victoria Rocha: We still utilize the number from 2019 when we look at the setup of our homeless services, and we don't think that number has necessarily significantly increased. Given the size of our city, we also feel very certain that our services are reaching everyone within our city limits that are in need.
How important is it to return to a full-fledged homeless count?
[It’s] what informs LAHSA as to where the dollars … need to flow … in Duarte and Irwindale but also just in the greater San Gabriel Valley.
Ultimately, homelessness is going to be a regional issue, and there are different needs of unhoused neighbors, depending on what part of LA County that you're in. So we want to see a successful homeless count not just for our efforts here in the city, but also [for] what's happening in the San Gabriel Valley as a whole. [We want to make] sure that if one place is getting services, people aren't getting displaced in the other parts of the San Gabriel Valley.
Why is Duarte conducting the count instead of LAHSA?
[LAHSA has] to have a point-in-time homeless count whether or not cities are able to supply staff and volunteers to assist them. But we know that you get more accurate numbers if cities are involved. We partner with Irwindale because they are our neighbor.
We want to share resources in very small cities. We like to bring in our CERT [Community Emergency Response] team. … We like to bring in local Azusa Pacific University students. [In] Irwindale, they bring in their local groups such as Rotary Club and Kiwanis.
What makes a good volunteer for this undertaking, and how are you keeping people safe amid COVID?
Good volunteers are people that are … motivated to help out their community. You just have to be 18 and over.
With COVID, we understand how much harder it is for people wanting to come out. The county is taking a lot of measures to make this a safe count, doing things like changing over the tallying to an app, [and we’re] asking volunteers to sign up in twos and threes so that way you're within your own bubble.
Despite the delay, the count is going to be undertaken on February 22 from 8 p.m. to midnight. Is four hours long enough to locate all or most unhoused people in your region?
Yes, actually, most of our volunteers end up coming back even sooner than that. Please sign up. ... You can look up when your city is doing their count. … Not everyone is on the same night, but we do want accurate numbers. It has been two years since we've had a count, and every person who wants to help is welcome.
You can sign up to volunteer for the Duarte/Irwindale homeless count here. For all other cities, you can visit this site and enter your local city or zip code.