LAHSA mobilizes citizens where it counts

With its annual homeless count, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority tracks homelessness in human terms as the first step toward a lasting solution.

By Jane St. John

As a driving force in the collaborative effort to end homelessness in LA, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) enlists the help of volunteers to better understand the extent of the problem and pursue scalable solutions. Each year starts with an important milestone: a citywide census to count and track the demographic breakdown of the city’s homeless population. As LAHSA’s Jonathan Hans puts it, “our solutions to ending homelessness are only as good as our information.”

The 2016 count was notable in that for the first time LAHSA had 100% coverage of LA County—using NationBuilder to track, recruit, train, and deploy a community of 7,500 volunteers. As Hans recalls, “over the course of three nights, over 4,000 square miles and 2,160 census tracts were counted by volunteers, which was amazing.” Afterward, they were able to see some heartening trends: a 30-to-40% decrease in homelessness for veterans and an 18-to-20% decrease for families since 2015.

Aside from the positivity of the data at face value, what this progress showed Hans and his team is that LA’s homelessness is a solvable problem—a fact that can be obscured by the staggering total numbers each year. “When you see 48,000 homeless in Los Angeles County,” Hans says, “it can have a paralyzing effect, where you see such a large number and it [seems] like too big of a mountain to climb. When we see that it is solvable, when you put coordination and resources toward this goal, there are significant results.”

Images courtesy of LAHSA
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