Santa Clarita is on its way to having a more accurate tally of its homeless population, according to community leaders and volunteers at Tuesday’s annual Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.
With safety vests, flashlights and clipboards in hand, more than 100 people, among them Mayor Cameron Smyth and representatives for local state elected officials, split into groups of three to scan shopping center parking lots, streets, neighborhoods and parks via cars and on foot to count the number of unsheltered people seen at night.
And for the first time in this capacity, six teams consisting of Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies, code enforcement officers and county homelessness experts conducted an early-morning operation in riverbeds, areas that have not been included in previous counts.
“I think the number will increase, but I think it’s really about the accuracy,” said Jerrid McKenna, assistant to the city manager and Santa Clarita homeless task force member. “This year is the most efficient we’ve been. We dedicated the most resources to training people, increased the amount of volunteers and did a full, six-hour operation in the morning to canvass a lot of the riverbed area.”
Technology also played a role this year in Santa Clarita. Those conducting the morning count used GPS software to track real-time homeless densities and input tallies directly into the database of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which coordinates the count annually.
The morning tally was not readily available Wednesday, but about 20 tents or makeshift shelters were counted by just one of the six teams, said McKenna, who participated in both the morning and night canvasses.
Santa Clarita was among 85 other cities and unincorporated areas of L.A. County that participated this week in a point-in-time tally of sheltered and unsheltered people facing homelessness.
Results, used by the federal government and county, determine how much money would be allocated to local homeless programs and services, which helped turned the SCV’s Bridge to Home shelter’s operations from seasonal to year-round.
The 2019 count revealed there were 256 homeless individuals, an increase from the 156 counted in 2018 and a decrease from tallies in 2016 (279) and 2017 (331).
But Santa Clarita leaders have repeatedly expressed that the figure is far below the actual count, and have urged the homeless task force to focus on attaining a more accurate count.
Tuesday’s efforts showed that “there’s more of an outreach approach” when training volunteers in counting the homeless, which ultimately helps lead toward accuracy, said veteran counter Mike Foley, executive director at Bridge to Home, who has participated in about 14 other counts across Southern California and beyond.
This year, volunteers were taught how to improve their searches and look for other signs of homelessness, which are not limited to someone sleeping on a bench or pushing a shopping cart and could include individuals living in well-maintained vehicles.
The final count is expected to be released sometime in the summer, but experienced volunteers reiterate that an increased tally is not tantamount to a higher homeless population.
“If there is an increase, it doesn’t mean that there are more homeless people,” said McKenna. “It means that we are getting better at identifying, getting into databases from the Department of Mental Health and hospitals.”